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If you have a criminal record, you may feel like it's a permanent stain that affects every aspect of your life, from job prospects to housing opportunities. Fortunately, by pursuing an expungement, you may be able to get a fresh start by clearing your record, allowing you to move forward without the looming shadow of past mistakes. However, navigating the complexities of a California expungement can be challenging, so it is important to have the assistance of an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer who can help you take the necessary steps to regain your peace of mind and unlock new opportunities.

What Is an Expungement?

An expungement is a legal process that removes a criminal record from public view, effectively clearing it from your record. This process allows individuals to move forward without the burden of past convictions affecting their opportunities for employment, housing, and other aspects of life.

Every state has its own expungement laws. In California, an expungement allows you to withdraw a guilty or no-contest plea and enter a not-guilty plea, resulting in the dismissal of your conviction. Once your record is expunged, it cannot be used against you by most employers, landlords, or other entities conducting background checks. However, evidence of your arrest will still exist, and the conviction can still be considered in certain circumstances, such as during sentencing for future criminal offenses.

What Types of Convictions Can Be Expunged in California?

In California, certain types of criminal convictions can be expunged, meaning they are dismissed from your record. However, not all convictions are eligible for expungement. Typically, Most misdemeanor convictions can be expunged, provided certain conditions are met. Additionally, certain felony convictions may be expunged if they were non-violent and if the offense can be reduced to a misdemeanor under Penal Code section 17(b).

"Wobbler" offenses, which are those crimes that can be charged either as misdemeanors or felonies, may be eligible for expungement. However, if the offense was charged as a felony, it must be reduced to a misdemeanor first.

Finally, juvenile convictions may be sealed, which is a process different from adult expungement. Once sealed, the records are treated as if they never existed.

The Benefits of a California Expungement

There are many benefits to obtaining an expungement in California. For example, once an expungement is finalized, you can legally answer “no” if a prospective employer asks if you’ve ever been convicted of a crime. This is because the conviction was “set aside and dismissed” under Penal Code § 1203.4.

However, if you believe that a prospective employer will run a background check, you may want to tell them that you had a previous case that was dismissed because evidence of the case may show up on a public background check.

For the same reason, a successful expungement can also make it easier to find housing. Like employers, landlords typically run background checks on prospective tenants. Thus, having a prior conviction set aside and dismissed may make finding your next home much easier.

Depending on your profession, a criminal conviction may preclude you from obtaining a professional certification or license. However, if you get your record expunged, you will regain eligibility for most state licenses.

Finally, if you ever testify in civil court, you will not need to worry about being confronted about your prior conviction once it’s been expunged.

The Limitations of an Expungement

Expungements go a long way in reversing the worst consequences of a criminal conviction; however, some consequences will remain, even after an expungement. For example, a conviction can still be used in certain circumstances, such as:

  • Expunged convictions can be used at sentencing for the purposes of the Three Strikes Law and other recidivist enhancement statutes;
  • Expunged convictions can still impact your driver’s license;
  • Expunged convictions can still affect your firearm rights; and
  • Expunged convictions are still used to determine sex offender registration (although there may be other means to eliminate the registration requirement).

While an expungement is an incredibly powerful tool, it may not grant you the relief you are seeking. However, California has many other types of relief that may better suit your needs. An experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorney can help you determine the best course of action to clear your record.

The Expungement Process in California

Successfully pursuing an expungement in California requires you follow several detailed steps, each requiring careful attention. Below is a general overview of the expungement process in California:

  1. Determine Your Eligibility: The first step is to verify if you qualify for expungement. Generally, you must have completed your probation successfully, with no pending charges, and no new convictions. Some serious offenses, like certain sex crimes, may not be eligible for expungement.
  2. Obtain Your Criminal Records: Gather all relevant documents, including court records, your criminal history, and details of your probation. This information will be crucial for accurately completing your expungement petition.
  3. Complete the Necessary Forms: Fill out the appropriate expungement forms, primarily the Petition for Dismissal (Form CR-180). You may also need to complete additional forms depending on your case and county-specific requirements.
  4. File the Petition with the Court: Submit your completed petition forms to the Superior court in the county where you were convicted. There may be filing fees, but you can request a fee waiver if you cannot afford the costs.
  5. Serve the District Attorney’s Office: Provide a copy of your filed petition to the District Attorney's office in the county where your case was heard. This allows the DA to review and respond to your request for expungement.
  6. Attend the Hearing (if required): Some courts require a hearing where you may need to present your case for expungement. Be prepared to explain how you have rehabilitated yourself and why the court should grant your request to expunging your record. Your Los Angeles criminal defense attorney can assist you in preparing for and representing you at this hearing.
  7. Receive the Court’s Decision: After reviewing your petition and any responses from the DA, the judge will make a decision. If granted, the court will issue an order to expunge your record, effectively dismissing your conviction.
  8. Follow-Up on Record Updates: Once your expungement is granted, ensure that your record is updated by checking with the California Department of Justice and other relevant agencies. While expungement removes the conviction from your public record, it’s wise to verify that all records accurately reflect this change.

By working with a knowledgeable Southern California criminal defense lawyer, you can effectively navigate the California expungement process and work towards a brighter future with a clean slate.

Are You Interested in Learning More About California Expungements?

If you have an old conviction on your record and have realized the adverse effects of having a criminal record, an expungement may provide you with the relief you’re seeking. However, California law is notoriously complex when it comes to expungements and other forms of post-conviction relief, and having the assistance of an experienced Southern California criminal defense attorney can be crucial. At Power Trial Lawyers, we’ve assembled a dedicated team of attorneys who are uniquely committed to helping our clients obtain the relief they are seeking. Our lawyers are knowledgeable, passionate, and meticulous, and we look forward to meeting with you to discuss how we can help. To learn more, give Power Trial Lawyers a call at 213-800-7664 or connect with us through our secure online contact form.

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