Understanding Criminal Record Expungement in California

Man appearing at a criminal record expungement hearing

For many individuals with a criminal past, the burden of a conviction feels like a heavy weight that’s difficult to shake off. It significantly hinders the pursuit of employment, housing, and education opportunities. The harsh reality is that the damaging effects of a felony can follow the person long after serving their time.

In the face of adversity, there exists a silver lining known as criminal record expungement, offering a beacon of hope. As a San Diego native and former prosecutor, it’s my privilege to guide you through this complex yet critical process in California. An expungement lawyer can facilitate the journey towards a fresh start and the chance to rebuild your life. So, let’s dive into understanding the intricate details together and lay the groundwork for a brighter future.

Record Sealing vs. Expungement

Record sealing and expungement are vital tools for individuals seeking a fresh start after encounters with the legal system—but there are critical distinctions. The automatic sealing of records, as per SB 731, pertains to individuals arrested by law enforcement but not convicted of a crime. This legislation electronically seals their records without the need for legal assistance.

However, for those legally declared guilty of a felony or misdemeanor, the only option is to pursue criminal record expungement. According to California Penal Code 1203.4, a successful expungement erases virtually all penalties and disabilities resulting from the offense. 

One significant benefit of expungement is the ability to answer “no” to the question of prior convictions on future job applications. While both options provide invaluable opportunities for individuals to rebuild their lives, your best option is to consult an experienced expungement lawyer.

Eligibility Criteria for Expungement in California

When considering whether your past criminal conviction makes you eligible for criminal record expungement, understanding the legal framework in California is paramount. Time served in a county prison won’t disqualify you, but state prison sentences do. So, what are the eligibility requirements for expungement in California?

Commonly Expunged Offenses

  • Petty theft
  • Shoplifting
  • Drug possession
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Trespassing
  • Non-violent felonies

Exceptions: Serious Crimes That Will Disqualify You  

Certain severe offenses like serious sex crimes, child pornography, murder, terrorism, arson, and certain vehicle-related crimes are, unfortunately, ineligible. For example, the subsequent offenses will disqualify you:

  • Rape
  • Lewd acts with a minor
  • Child pornography
  • Murder
  • Acts of terrorism
  • Serious arson crimes
  • Felony hit-and-run offenses

Probation Requirements

If you’re on probation, fulfilling every condition is a prerequisite before you can file for a criminal record expungement.

That typically includes:

  • Paying all fines and restitution
  • Attending and completing any required programs, classes, or therapy
  • Fulfilling any community service obligations
  • Adhering to any other terms specified by the court

By familiarizing yourself with these requirements and completing any necessary probation terms, you may be able to get your record expunged and experience the related benefits.

Required Documentation for Filing a Petition

Pair of reading glasses resting on top of forms

Expungement is a legal process that allows individuals with prior criminal charges to have their records cleared, offering opportunities for personal and professional growth. To successfully file for criminal record expungement in California, you must gather and submit the required documentation. Here is a quick overview of the necessary paperwork for expunging misdemeanors, convictions resulting in county jail sentences, and state imprisonments.


In the case of expunging misdemeanors, your journey begins with completing a CR-180 form. It’s crucial to note that you must submit this form in the same county where the conviction took place. This form is required to request a dismissal of your charges.

PC 17(B) & PC 1203.4

If your conviction led to a county jail sentence, you must file a PC 17(b) form to reduce the felony to a misdemeanor. If you also had probation after your release, a PC 1203.4 form is required. These forms ensure your eligibility for expungement, permitting you to attain a cleaner record.

Certificate of Rehabilitation and Pardon

If your conviction led to a stint in state prison, the possibility of expungement does exist. However, there’s a condition attached. You must reside in the same county for five consecutive years before you can submit any paperwork. Instead of the typical expungement process, you must file a petition for a Certificate of Rehabilitation and Pardon. 

In this petition, the court will require proof of rehabilitation efforts, and you must show a sincere commitment to change. Based on your request, the judge will decide whether to reduce your charges and rule for a dismissal. Consulting with an expungement lawyer can further assist in navigating this legal process, increasing your chances of achieving a more favorable outcome.

Potential Benefits of a Successful Expungement

A successful expungement in California goes beyond simply erasing a criminal record. There are several other benefits a recipient will receive. Under California Penal Code section 1203.4, individuals cannot face discrimination for employment, hiring, promotion, or termination based on their expunged case. Furthermore, the law prohibits employers from seeking information about expunged convictions, and individuals may be entitled to monetary damages if employers violate this restriction. 

Another notable advantage of expungement is the potential for less intrusive international travel, particularly when entering Canada. Canadian courts recognize criminal record expungements granted by foreign jurisdictions, helping travelers avoid unnecessary complications at the border. However, it’s crucial to understand that expungement might not necessarily erase every trace of a criminal record from government-controlled or privately-owned databases. 

Background screeners could still access these records through various sources that do not update their data, which could have significant consequences. Therefore, securing the services of an expungement lawyer with a wealth of experience is the best strategy. They can guide the process and work to ensure that any background checks come out as clean as possible.

Preparing for Your Court Hearing

Paralegal consulting with a client

Preparing for an expungement hearing involves understanding the process and its significance in clearing one’s criminal record. In essence, the expungement hearing aims to determine if an individual qualifies for the removal of a specific offense from government databases. Serving the District Attorney’s Office with necessary paperwork is mandatory in this process, as they represent the opposing party. Also, if you’ve completed probation after release, you must notify your probation department about the expungement request.

To successfully prepare for the hearing, an expungement lawyer can be invaluable in navigating legal complexities. Collect and organize all relevant documents, and adhere to a professional dress code. Anticipate that hearings may last a few minutes or hours, depending on case specifics. Afterward, the judge will grant the expungement, or you may have your attorney initiate the appeal process. Understanding these steps can empower individuals pursuing criminal record expungement and increase their chances of success.

Wrapping Up

In conclusion, criminal record expungement in California offers a pathway to a brighter future. By clearing your record, you can open new opportunities and break free from past mistakes. Don’t go through this process alone; seeking guidance from an experienced expungement lawyer is crucial for success. You deserve a fresh start, so take the first step and call 1(858)922-7098 today for a consultation to explore your eligibility and reclaim your life.

About Michael MacNeil

Michael C. MacNeil is a San Diego Family Law and Criminal Defense attorney. With a Juris Doctor degree from the University of San Diego School of Law, MacNeil has a solid understanding of our justice system. As a member of the State Bar of California, MacNeal can practice before all courts in the state. MacNeil believes that the law should be accessible to everyone, regardless of their financial status. With over 20 years of experience, Michael C. MacNeil is passionate about the law and will work tirelessly to get the best possible outcome for you. Call Mr. MacNeil at 858-922-7098.