What is an Expungement?
This guide will give you a basic summary of what a California "expungement" is.
The BasicsIn California an "expungement" is a dismissal of a criminal charge (or charges) pursuant to Penal Code Section 1203.4, 1203.4a, 1203.45. or 1210.1. What the heck does that mean? Good question. To answer that question it's helpful to understand that California does not have a true expungement statute (or code section) like many other states do. Some states allow people to petition their court for a removal of a crime from their criminal record. California simply does not. There are special circumstances when a record can be sealed and destroyed, such as convictions of minors or records of arrests when "factual innocence" can be proven. But otherwise, California does not provide a means to remove convictions from one's record. That beings said, California DOES allow a person to petition the court to dismiss certain charges. When a court grants this request, the person who was formerly convicted via a plea of guilty, no contest or by a finding of guilty after a trial, will have his or her record amended from "guilty" or "no contest" to "dismissed pursuant to Penal Code Section 1203.4." You may be asking at this point: So what? If it's not removed from my record how does this help me? It can help you because once the court grants the dismissal, you will be allowed to legally state that you have never been convicted of the crime you have dismissed.
The Benefits of an "Expungement"There are several significant benefits to having your charges dismissed after a conviction. Probably the most important benefit for many people is that when most employers ask you if you have been convicted of any felony or misdemeanor, you can answer "no." In fact, California created a law in January 2014 to protect those who have been convicted of crimes and then have gone through the process of "expungement" and had their charges dismissed. It was proposed in Senate Bill 530 and is codified in Labor Code Section 432.7(a). The law prohibits employers from using arrests that did not result in conviction and expunged or sealed crimes in the hiring process, and even provides for civil and criminal penalties for employers who violate this law. The text of the law reads: "No employer, whether a public agency or private individual or corporation, shall ask an applicant for employment to disclose, through any written form or verbally, information concerning an arrest or detention that did not result in conviction, or information concerning a referral to, and participation in, any pretrial or post-trial diversion program, or concerning a conviction that has been judicially dismissed or ordered sealed pursuant to law, including, but not limited to, Sections 1203.4, 1203.4a, 1203.45, and 1210.1 of the Penal Code, nor shall any employer seek from any source whatsoever, or utilize, as a factor in determining any condition of employment including hiring, promotion, termination, or any apprenticeship training program or any other training program leading to employment, any record of arrest or detention that did not result in conviction, or any record regarding a referral to, and participation in, any pretrial or posttrial diversion program, or concerning a conviction that has been judicially dismissed or ordered sealed pursuant to law, including, but not limited to, Sections 1203.4, 1203.4a, 1203.45, and 1210.1 of the Penal Code. As used in this section, a conviction shall include a plea, verdict, or finding of guilt regardless of whether sentence is imposed by the court. Nothing in this section shall prevent an employer from asking an employee or applicant for employment about an arrest for which the employee or applicant is out on bail or on his or her own recognizance pending trial." Labor Code Section 432.7(a) A dismissal of your charges from a California expungement may also help you in other ways. Though you will still be required to disclose expunged convictions on application for professional licenses, the fact that an expungement has been granted could positively influence the state's decision to license you. In addition, an expungement will prevent your credibility from being impeached if you are a witness in court and you are not a defendant in the case. Lastly, you will have the satisfaction of knowing that the state has determined that you successfully completed what you were required to complete with regard to your conviction, and the state recognizes your accomplishment.
Expungement LimitationsThere are other limitations to what a California expungement will do for you as well. In addition to it not removing the record of the charge, it will not end sex offender registry, restore lost gun rights, restore a driving privilege, or permit you to withhold disclosure of the conviction to certain government agencies and in a direct question contained in any questionnaire or application for public office, for licensure by any state or local agency, or for contracting with the California State Lottery Commission
SummaryIn summary, an expungement is not a removal of convictions from your criminal record, but it is a dismissal of the charges that could benefit you in the aforementioned ways. One of the most important ways being that you will not have to disclose the conviction to most prospective employers in the hiring process, and the employer is statutorily prohibited form using the expunged conviction against you. This article is only a general summary of expungement law in California and if you are considering seeking an expungement it is important to consult a criminal defense attorney to assess your eligibility. *This article summarizes California law, other state law will be different. This article is not a substitute for legal advice, a lawyer should be consulted with regard to eligibility and what an expungement can do for you in your specific case.