California offers one of the most gracious expungement programs in the country, and it is a principle of California state law to provide a second chance to people who have made mistakes in the past. But that does not mean that the process is necessarily simple, that any and all criminal records will be erased, or that you will be in the exact same position as you were before. While the benefits of expungement are enormous – namely the reputational and career benefits you will experience – it’s good to go into the process clear-eyed and with the right resources to get the job done.
Expungement Can Be a Multi-step Process
Expungement is not simply a matter of filling out and filing a form, and, depending on the type of conviction, may require multiple steps. Misdemeanor crimes can be expunged in California, but, if you were convicted of a felony, then you can take steps to have a court reduce your felony to a misdemeanor charge, and then have the misdemeanor expunged. You must also finish and fulfill all requirements of probation prior to having your conviction expunged, and this also may require additional steps, especially if there are unresolved issues with your probation.
Many But Not All Crimes Can Be Expunged
Again, many felonies can be reduced to a misdemeanor and later expunged, but certain crimes are not eligible for expungement. If you spent time in a state prison as opposed to a county prison for your crimes, then you may not be eligible for expungement. Also, the California legislature has limited the ability of defendants to obtain expungement for certain crimes (regardless of where time was served) including a number of serious sex offenses where the victim was a minor. But for misdemeanors and the vast majority of felonies where there was no state prison sentences involved, expungement is available.
Expungement is Not Always the Same as Clearing Your Criminal Record
When you successfully expunge your record, the courts will actually change your public record to show a not guilty finding for the crime that you were charged with, but private companies that maintain databases of criminal records for the purposes of background checks may not necessarily reflect this change and thus may provide employers and background investigators with information about your now expunged conviction. Services are available, however, for an individual who has had their record expunged to take action to clear these third-party criminal records as well.