The process of record sealing typically involves sealing criminal records or making them unavailable to the public. The public, in this case, cannot access or view the records on public domains. Record sealing is open for a defendant found not guilty or when the court concludes the case, and the defendant serves the recommended sentence. However, even after sealing your criminal record, some individuals and government agencies can still access the records. In addition, record sealing is only available for certain crimes that qualify for expungement, especially offenses committed by juveniles or specific misdemeanors. If you need your criminal record sealed after conviction and release, you need to seek the services of a skilled criminal attorney. At the Chula Vista Criminal Attorney, our attorneys can help you navigate the criminal justice system and apply to seal your criminal records.

Record Sealing Under California Law

California law under Penal Code 851.87 allows you to petition the court and have your arrest records sealed if the court does not convict you of any offense. This statute is known as the ‘’arrested record sealing statute’’.

According to PC 851.87, if you were arrested and not convicted of any crime, then you have a right to petition the court to have your arrest records sealed if:

  • One year has passed since you were in custody.
  • The prosecutor has failed to file a lawsuit against you following your arrest, and the statute of limitations on each possible misdemeanor, felony, or infraction conviction has expired.
  • You have not faced an arrest for any other crime since the previous arrest.
  • The prosecutor filed charges against you, but later, the court dropped the charges, and the prosecutor cannot refile the charges against you. For example, as a result of a Penal Code 995 motion.
  • The court dropped the charges against you after you completed a pretrial program or pre-sentencing program like a drug diversion.
  • The court charged you but later reversed the charges or vacated on appeal, and the charges could not be refiled.
  • The prosecutor filed charges against you, but you were not found guilty at trial.

You could petition the court to seal your arrest records if you meet the above requirements. The jury or judge will evaluate your petition and determine whether to grant you the request. The judge will issue an order sealing your arrest records if he/she grants your petition, and the public will no longer access the information. However, you could be required to reveal your arrest record if you apply for specific jobs or licenses requiring a background check.

Clean And Rehabilitative Environment Act (CARE Act)

Also known as Penal Code 851.91, the CARE Act permits individuals arrested or charged with certain crimes to petition the court to have their arrest or charge records destroyed or sealed. CARE Act aims to give individuals who have made mistakes in the past a chance to move on with their lives. The CARE Act also aims to remove the negative effect that an arrest or charge record can have on a defendant in the future.

According to the CARE Act, if you meet specific criteria, you could qualify to have your arrest or charge records destroyed or sealed. Some of the requirements include:

  • If currently, you have not faced any charges or faced a conviction for any offense.
  • Paying any restitution or fines.
  • Completing your jail term.

Expunging and Sealing a Record

Expunging and sealing records have different eligibility requirements and procedures. An expungement is a legal process involving dismissing or destroying a criminal record. You must petition the court and give specific information regarding your crime and the disposition of your case before the court deletes your criminal record. The court will evaluate your petition and determine whether to grant your request for expungement.

On the other hand, sealing a record means making a criminal record inaccessible to the public. A person must file a petition with the court and give specific information concerning the crime and the disposition of the case before the court seals their criminal record. Then, the court will examine your petition and determine whether to grant your request to seal your record.

Advantages Of A Record Sealing

Sealing a criminal record has several potential benefits, depending on your case's specific circumstances. Some of the advantages include:

Improved Reputation

Your arrest record could damage your reputation and cause you embarrassment. You can only prevent the information from becoming public and protect your reputation by sealing your arrest record.

Enhances Your Educational Opportunities

Your criminal record could negatively influence your ability to enroll in specific programs or schools or receive financial assistance and scholarships. You can only remove this barrier and pursue educational opportunities by sealing your criminal record.

It Improves Your Prospects For Housing

Like employment, it can be hard for you to secure a house if you have a record. House owners could easily refuse to rent their houses if you have a record, especially if your arrest led to a sentence. Therefore, securing a place to live can be easier if the court seals your criminal record.

It Improves Your Prospects For Employment

It can be hard to secure any job if you have a record, especially if the arrest leads to a sentence. However, if you were arrested and not convicted, sealing your criminal record could assist you in presenting a cleaner background check to potential employers.

Sealing an Arrest Record as a Legal Right

According to the old Penal Code 851.8, if the police arrest you, you must prove you are innocent. Today, SB 393 or Penal Code 851.87 allows you to have your arrest record sealed without getting permission from the court or showing good cause. As long as you qualify for the sealing of your arrest records, you have a right to have your records sealed without providing additional justification or arguing your case.

However, you cannot qualify for record sealing if the following factors apply:

  • You escaped the attempt by the police to arrest you by committing identity fraud, and previously, you faced identity fraud charged.
  • The law enforcers arrested you for committing murder or another crime, whereby the statute of limitations is not applicable unless the court acquits you or finds you innocent.
  • You will face a conviction for a crime following your arrest.
  • The prosecutor did not prosecute you because you knowingly escaped the attempt by the police to arrest you. For example, failing to attend the court hearing.

Additionally, you cannot have your arrest record sealed if you have a pattern of elder abuse, domestic violence, or child abuse. Senate Bill 393 and Penal Code 851.91 define this pattern as five or more situations of being taken to jail in three years or two or more charges. However, you can still have your arrest record sealed by petitioning the court since it is in the interest of justice. In this case, the judge will consider some circumstances to ascertain if your charges meet the justice threshold. Some factors that the judge would consider include the following:

  • Assertions or evidence about your good conduct.
  • Declarations or evidence regarding your arrest.
  • The hardships occasioned by your arrest.
  • The history of your charges.

Senate Bill 393

Before passing Senate Bill 393, it was hard for individuals whose arrest did not lead to a conviction to have their arrest record sealed. You had to prove it by filing a petition of innocence under Penal Code 851.8. You had to prove that you were not arrested, even if the prosecutor failed to file charges against you. You also had to prove your innocence, even if the court later dropped your charges.

The arrest records appear on the criminal background checks run by house owners and employers. This led to the discrimination of innocent individuals in society. Fortunately, under the new statute, you only need to show the court that your arrest did not lead to a charge. The burden of proof will then shift to the prosecutor to show that you are not eligible to seal your criminal records. For example, the prosecutor could allege that you have a background in domestic violence.

Situations Where Sealed Records Can Legally Be Used

Typically, your records do not cease to exist, even though sealing them destroys them. Therefore, authorities could still use a sealed record against you if you face prosecution for another crime after that. Additionally, even after sealing your records, criminal justice agencies could still access and reveal your records to the police.

Generally, record sealing does not relieve you from the following:

  • Your obligation to disclose your arrest while applying for a license by a state or local agency, a written agreement with Lottery Commission, a public office position, a job as a police.
  • Any prohibition on owning or possessing a gun or risk of facing charges for violating PC 29800.
  • Your duty to register as a sex offender according to PC 290.
  • Ineligibility to hold public office because of your arrest.

Usually, your petition to have your arrest and criminal record sealed only applies to specific criminal records. When the court grants you the petition, they will not erase your entire criminal record but only the crime for which you sought the sealing. You must submit a petition for every arrest if you want each of your other arrest records sealed for arrests that did not end up in a sentence.

The Procedure Of Sealing Your Record

Sealing your criminal record involves filing a petition with the court and giving specific details regarding the crime and your case’s disposition. Some of the steps involved in sealing your criminal record include:

Determine If You Qualify

If you are arrested and not convicted of any offense, you could be eligible to have your arrest records sealed under Penal Code 851.87 if:

  • You have not had your application to seal your record rejected within the previous two years.
  • You have not faced the charges for specific crimes, which do not qualify for sealing, like sex offenses or certain violent offenses.
  • You are currently not serving a jail term for any crime or have never served a jail term in a state prison.
  • You were charged with a misdemeanor or a felony and have completed the jail term, including parole or probation.

Gather Essential Documents

You should gather certain documents to seal your criminal record. The documents include the following:

  • Documents related to your charges or copies of any court orders.
  • A copy of your criminal history.
  • Any other necessary documents like the evidence of rehabilitation or good conduct.

File a Petition With the Court

This step involves filing a petition to request the court seal your record once you have gathered the necessary documents. Your petition should include the following:

  • The disposition of your charges.
  • The details regarding your crime.
  • Other essential details which support your application to have your criminal record sealed.

Showing Up For The Hearing

The court will set a hearing to consider your request once you have filed the petition. You must attend the hearing and table your case before the jury or the judge. A record-sealing hearing is generally a session that allows a defendant with a criminal record to petition the court to have their record sealed. The hearing aims to enable the defendant to present their case and explain why he/she believes the court should seal their criminal record.

During the hearing, you will testify and provide substantial evidence to support your request to have your record sealed. Some of the evidence includes the following:

  • Documents associated with your charges or copies of any court order.
  • A copy of your criminal history.
  • Any other essential documents like evidence of good conduct or rehabilitation.

You will also have to answer the prosecutor's or judge’s questions regarding the disposition of your charges, and other important information.

The court will evaluate your evidence and judge whether you qualify for record sealing. The judge will order the sealing of your record once your request is granted so that no one can access your information. You could file a new petition later or appeal the decision if the court rejects your request.

Usually, sealing a criminal record involves many steps and is complicated. It is, therefore, advisable that you seek the services of a skilled criminal defense attorney to help navigate the process and ensure you receive the justice you deserve.

The Period It Takes To Seal a Criminal Record

It usually takes a period that does not exceed 90 days to receive a court order to seal your arrest record after filing a petition. The court will notify the following groups within 30 days of issuing the order to seal your arrest record:

  • The Department of Justice.
  • The law enforcement agency that was involved in your arrest.
  • The agency which administers the master criminal history records.

Your court record and master criminal record will be updated to show that the court has sealed your criminal record. The file will also bear a stamp, indicating that the record is confidential. The local law enforcement agency will ensure the information is clear in all master copies, digital copies, and police investigative reports associated with your sealed criminal records.

The court records, police investigative reports, and arrest records will not be accessible to the public after record sealing except for the following:

  • You can personally access the information.
  • A criminal justice agency that could utilize the information as if your arrest had not been sealed.

Remedies For The Release Of Your Sealed Arrest And Criminal Record

Based on your case’s circumstances, you could choose from several remedies if your sealed arrest record is released. First, you could file a complaint against the individual or agency that released your record. You could also demand a corrective action or apology from the person or agency to address the release of your record.

You can sue the person or agency that released your arrest record. Under a civil lawsuit, you can recover damages for any harm you suffered by releasing your arrest record. Generally, a person who releases an arrest record can face a fine of $500 and $2,500 for every offense.

If someone improperly disseminates your arrest record, the remedies available for you will vary depending on the state laws where you were arrested. It will also depend on the factors surrounding your case. For example, you could consult a competent criminal defense attorney on the appropriate remedies in this case.

Deadline For Sealing A Criminal Record

Under the old Penal Code 851.8, defendants had only two years to petition to seal their arrest record from the date of their arrest or the filing of the charges. Under Penal Code 851.87, you have three years to file your petition after your arrest or the completion date of any probation. However, the deadline is always one year after the date of your arrest if you were arrested but not convicted of a crime. The deadlines could vary depending on the specific circumstances of your charges.

Sealing of Your Juvenile Records

According to Penal Code 851.87, destroying and sealing an adult arrest record differs from juvenile sealing. Under Welfare and Institutions Code 781, sealing your juvenile records takes eight to ten months on average. You must file your petition in the county where your juvenile trial happened. Unfortunately, it is not automatic to have your juvenile records sealed once you turn 18. It can only happen if you secure a court order to seal and destroy them under WIC 781. Once the court seals your juvenile records, prospective school officials, house owners, lenders, state licensing agencies, and employers will not discriminate against you because of your mistakes when you were a minor.

If the court grants your petition to seal your arrest records, it will close your file, and the documents in it will not be accessible to the public. The aim of sealing your juvenile records is to prevent further stigmatization. Once your juvenile arrest records are sealed, you are expected to answer no if any person asks:

  • If the police ever arrested you.
  • If you have a sealed record, or
  • If you have an arrest record.

The juvenile record typically constitutes every report and court record with crimes you ever committed while a minor under 18 years. This includes arrest reports, probation reports, exhibits, court findings, and judgments.

You could only qualify for juvenile record sealing if the following is true:

  • The jurisdiction of the juvenile court ended five years ago, or you are currently 18 years or older.
  • You did not face severe charges in the juvenile court like robbery, torture, or murder after you turned 14 years.
  • As an adult, you have not faced any misdemeanor or felony charges involving moral turpitude.
  • The court believes you are reformed.

Additionally, under Penal Code 851.7, specific individuals could be eligible to have their juvenile records sealed. If the police arrested you for committing a misdemeanor crime when you were a minor, you could seek the sealing of your juvenile records if:

  • The police or the juvenile court set you free for lack of substantial proof to hold you for the charges.
  • The court dismissed the charges against you.
  • The juvenile court discharged you without charge.

On the other hand, two circumstances could cause the reopening of your juvenile record after it has been sealed. They include:

  • In case the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) permits adjusters of automobile insurance to inspect your driving record purposely to assess your insurance risk and eligibility.
  • If you are a party to a civil defamation case, the records will again be sealed after the resolution.

Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

The process of record sealing is lengthy and confusing. It is, therefore, advisable that you seek the services of a competent criminal defense attorney. Your attorney will guide you through the legal process and help you seek justice. At the Chula Vista Criminal Attorney, we have competent criminal defense attorneys who can assist you in petitioning the court to seal your records. Contact us at 619-877-6894 to speak to one of our attorneys.