Cleaning Your Record

This guide only deals with criminal convictions obtained in California. Other states, the military, and the federal government may have similar procedures, but you must check with them to find out what is required. Try the Public Defender’s Office for the county you were convicted in, the Judge Advocate General’s Office (Navy), (Army), (Air Force) for military convictions, or the Federal Defender’s Office for federal convictions.

Important Notice: This guide is intended as an information tool to assist you with cleaning up your criminal record. We do not guarantee any results for a particular case, and the information in this guide is not intended as legal advice.

If the Public Defender’s Office represented you in your criminal case, it may be able to assist you. In some counties, the public defender may help you even if that office did not represent you in your case.

Click to find the public defender in your county. You can also get advice from a private lawyer. Click here for help finding a lawyer.

California Labor Code section 432.7 says that an employer cannot ask someone applying for a job for information about an arrest or detention that did not end in a conviction. Also, an employer cannot ask about a referral to or participation in any diversion program. An employer is also not supposed to look for any record of arrest (from any source) that did not end in a conviction. If this information comes to the employer’s attention anyway, the employer cannot use that record as a factor in hiring, promoting, or terminating that person. But this same code section says that the employer may ask an employee or someone applying for a job about an arrest for which he or she is out on bail or released on his or her own recognizance pending trial. A conviction, for purposes of this code section, includes pleas, verdicts, or findings of guilt.

Because in general people are protected from having to disclose to an employer an arrest if it did not result in a conviction, this guide will focus on cases where someone has actually been convicted and does not fall under the protection of this Labor Code section.


Find out the details of your convictions

In order to begin cleaning up your criminal record, you first need to know what is on your criminal record. The court will require you to fill out forms. Whether you are requesting a dismissal or a certificate of rehabilitation and pardon, you will need to know the details of each of your convictions in order to complete the forms. Also, certain details will affect your eligibility for a dismissal or certificate.

There are several details you will need to know in order to accomplish your goals. If you have more than 1 conviction, you need this information for EVERY conviction:

1. What is your case number — sometimes called “docket number”?

2. What was your date of conviction — which is the date of your plea, verdict, or finding of guilt?

3. What is the code name and section number you were convicted of violating?

4. Was there a verdict or did you enter a plea?

• If you entered a plea, was it “guilty” or “no contest” (also called “nolo contendere”)?

5. Were you ordered to serve any time on probation (either formal or informal probation, since they are treated the same in your record)? If so, for how long?

6. Were you ordered to pay any fines, restitution, or reimbursement?

7. If you were sentenced to state prison, which one?

8. If you were sentenced to state prison, on what date were you released?

9. If you were released on parole, on what date did your parole end?

Get a copy of the information on your criminal record

The information on your criminal record information can be obtained from a variety of sources.

Here is a list of the most common sources:

1. Your court papers received at the time of conviction.

2. Your attorney, parole officer, probation officer, or contacts within the courts or law enforcement community.

3. The superior court where you were convicted. They will only have information for convictions from that county and not other counties. You will need to make a copy of all of your orders of judgment.

4. The California State Dept. of Justice, Criminal Record Review Unit. They will have your criminal record’s information for the entire state of California. Make sure you follow the directions for requesting your criminal record carefully.  You can also contact them by telephone at:  916-227-3400

There is a fee, but you may qualify for a fee waiver. You must provide written proof of your income. It may take several weeks for the record to arrive in the mail.

Figuring out your options

 

Your situation

You may be able t

How to do it

You were convicted of a misdemeanor and are still on probation.

Request early release from probation and file a petition to have the conviction dismissed.

File a petition under Penal Code section 1203.3 to have probation terminated early, and a Pen. Code, § 1203.4 petition for expungement.

You were convicted of a misdemeanor and have successfully completed probation.

File a petition to have the conviction dismissed.

File a Pen. Code, § 1203.4 petition for expungement.

You were convicted of a misdemeanor or infraction and were never given any probation at all.

File a petition to have the conviction dismissed.

File a Pen. Code, § 1203.4a petition for expungement.

You were convicted of a felony and are still on probation.

Request early release from probation and file a petition to have the conviction reduced to a misdemeanor and dismissed.

File a Pen. Code, § 1203.3 petition to have probation terminated early. File a Pen. Code, § 17(b) petition to get a felony reduced, and a Pen. Code, § 1203.4petition for expungement.

You were convicted of a felony and are done with probation and/or county jail time.

File a petition to have the conviction reduced and dismissed.

File a Pen. Code, § 17(b) petition to get a felony reduced, and a Pen. Code, § 1203.4 petition for expungement.

You were convicted of a felony and were never given any probation at all and were sentenced to county jail.

File a petition to have the felony reduced to a misdemeanor and file a petition to have the conviction dismissed.

File a Pen. Code, § 17(b) petition to get a felony reduced, and a Pen. Code, § 1203.4a petition for expungement.

You were convicted of a felony and were sentenced to state prison or put under the authority of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

File a petition for a certificate of rehabilitation and pardon.

See the requirements for this process, and the 10-year rule, under Certificate of Rehabilitation and Pardon.

 


Figuring out if you are eligible for a dismissal

What is a dismissal?

If you were convicted of an infraction, a misdemeanor, or a felony and were not sentenced to state prison or put under the authority of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, you can petition for a dismissal. This means you were given county jail time, probation, a fine, or a combination of those 3. If you are petitioning for a dismissal, the court, upon proper motion, may withdraw your guilty or no contest (nolo contendere) plea, or verdict of guilt if you went to trial, and enter a not guilty plea. Then the court will set aside and dismiss the conviction. From that point forward, you are no longer considered convicted of the offense. Your record will be changed to show a dismissal rather than a conviction.

When are you eligible for a dismissal?

You are eligible for dismissal of a conviction, and the court will dismiss your conviction, if:

  • You received probation for that conviction and:
    1. You successfully completed probation or obtained early release;
    2. You also have paid all the fines, restitution, and reimbursements ordered by the court as part of your sentence;
    3. You are not currently serving another sentence or on probation for another offense; AND
    4. You are not currently charged with another offense.

  • You never received probation and:
    1. Your conviction was a misdemeanor or an infraction;
    2. It has been at least 1 year since the date you were convicted;
    3. You have complied fully with the sentence of the court;
    4. You are not currently serving another sentence;
    5. You are not currently charged with another offense; AND
    6. You have obeyed the law and lived an honest and upright life since the time of your conviction

You are eligible for a dismissal and the court has the discretion (choice) to grant you that dismissal if:

  • You received probation but you did not get an early release, did not fulfill all the conditions of probation, or were convicted of any offense listed in Vehicle Code section 12810(a) to (e) BUT:
    1. You have paid all the fines, restitution, and reimbursements ordered by the court as part of your sentence; AND
    2. You are not currently charged with, on probation for, or serving a sentence for any other offense.

  • It is up to the court to decide if your conviction should be dismissed, so make sure to give as much helpful information as possible to convince the court that granting you a dismissal is in the interests of justice.

Convictions not eligible for dismissal

If you were convicted of any of the following offenses, you are not eligible for a dismissal under Penal Code section 1203.4a:

Other situations

Diversion

If you were referred to a “diversion” program, your record will already be changed in 1 of 2 ways. If you successfully completed all of the diversion program requirements, your record should already be changed to show a dismissal. If you did not complete your requirements or were not actually given diversion, then the conviction will be on your record.

 Marijuana possession offenses

If you were convicted of possession of marijuana for personal use, then you do not necessarily need to get a dismissal for the offense. Under California Health and Safety Code sections 11361.5 and 11361.7,all convictions for possession of marijuana for personal use, after January 1, 1976, are erased from your record after 2 years. BE CAREFUL! The conviction cannot be for cultivation, sales, or transportation. If it is, it will be on your record.

 Juvenile records

Your juvenile records do appear on your criminal record. As of your 18th birthday, you are eligible to petition to have your juvenile records sealed. Once your records are sealed, no one can gain access to them and they will be completely destroyed 5 years from the date of sealing.

 

Juvenile records are not automatically sealed upon your 18th birthday. You must petition the juvenile court to have them sealed. You can do this by filling out a form and filing it with the juvenile court in the county where you were convicted. Contact the juvenile court in the county where you were convicted and ask them to send you a copy of the form used in that county. Check to see if they have any special filing requirements, such as additional photocopies or the need to serve copies of the petition on any government agencies, and get the correct information for filing by mail. Usually, there is no fee.

 

If you graduated from the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Division of Juvenile Justice,your juvenile convictions will have been dismissed as part of your graduation. If you do not petition to have your juvenile records sealed and destroyed, they will remain on your record until your 38th birthday; then they will be destroyed.

What a dismissal will do

Once all your convictions have been dismissed, this is what you can expect:

 

  1. Applying for private employment: Under most circumstances, private employers cannot ask you about any convictions dismissed under Penal Code section 1203.4. So when applying for a job in the private sector, you generally do not have to disclose a conviction if it was dismissed or expunged. But it is a good idea to read Penal Code section 1203.4, or California Code of Regulations section 7287.4(d), or to talk to the public defender in your county if you have questions about your rights and obligations regarding past convictions when applying for a job. 
  1. Applying for government employment or a government license: For questions by government employers or on government licensing applications, if you are asked if you have ever been convicted of a crime, you MUST respond with “YES—CONVICTION DISMISSED.” In California, government employers and licensing agencies (except for police agencies and concessionaire licensing boards) will treat you the same as if you had never been convicted of any crime.
  1. You will not be allowed to own or possess a firearm until you would otherwise be able to do so.
  1. Your dismissed convictions can still be used to increase your punishment in future criminal cases.
  1. Your prior convictions can still affect your driving privileges.
  1. If you have been required to register as a sex offender as a result of a conviction, you have to make a different motion to the court in order to be relieved of this requirement. A dismissal will not relieve you of your duty to register as a sex offender. Your status as a registered sex offender will continue to be available to the public on the Internet under Megan’s Law.
  1. If your conviction prohibited you from holding public office, you still cannot hold public office after that conviction is dismissed.

File your petition with the court

Complete the petition

If you are filing a petition for reducing a felony or a petition for early release from probation or for a dismissal, you will need to call the clerk of the superior court for the county where you were convicted and ask them for the following information:

  1. Have them send you as many copies of their form (if they have one) as you have convictions in that county.
  2. If you are filing a petition under Penal Code sections 1203.4 and 1203.4a, you can use the Petition for Dismissal (Form CR-180).
  3. Ask if you need to submit additional photocopies of the petition and, if so, how many.
  4. Ask if their local rules of court require you to serve copies of your petition on the district attorney or probation department.
  5. Ask what the correct mailing address is for filing by mail.

Remember, you can only dismiss 1 conviction at a time. This means you must fill out a separate petition for each conviction that you want to dismiss, but you can file them all at the same time. If you are currently on probation, you will need to deal with that conviction first; then you can proceed with the others.

File your petition

If you are filing a petition for reducing a felony or a petition for early release from probation or a dismissal, you will need to mail (or deliver in person) your filing materials to the clerk of the superior court for the county where you were convicted.

Be sure to include any supportive materials such as letters of support, school diplomas or transcripts, and if applying for early release from probation, a letter to the judge explaining why you feel you should be released from probation early. At the time you file your papers, the clerk will set a hearing date.

If required in your county, be sure to serve the district attorney or probation department.

You will be required to attend the hearing, although for Penal Code section 1203.4 and section 1203.4a petitions you may not have to appear. If you are required to attend the hearing, BE SURE TO ATTEND. Be on time and dress conservatively. If your petition is granted, make sure to put the order in a safe place for your records.

The court cannot charge you a fee to file your petition, but the court may order you to reimburse the court, city, and county up to $150 each after the court decides your petition, whether or not your petition was granted. But before you are ordered to pay, the court must decide if you are able to pay all or a part of the costs of your petition without undue hardship. 

If your petition is denied

Do NOT despair! You may still be able to get your convictions dismissed. After you receive the order from the judge denying your dismissal, you can either go to, or call, the clerk at the courthouse to see if you can find out why the petition was denied and whether you can fix the problem and re-file.

When you speak with the clerk, be respectful and take notes. Follow the instructions of the clerk and be sure to thank the clerk for his or her help.

Certificate of Rehabilitation and Pardon

If you were sentenced to state prison or sentenced under the authority of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, you are not eligible for a dismissal under Penal Code section 1203.4 or 1203.4a. However, you may be eligible for a certificate of rehabilitation and pardon. For eligibility and application requirements, contact:

The Board of Parole Hearings
Post Office Box 4036
Sacramento, CA 95812-4036

If you are eligible, you may file a petition with the superior court where you reside. This is a lengthy process and you may need a lawyer. You have the right to have the public defender in your county help you. If there is no public defender in your county, you may still have the right to get help, either from the county’s adult probation officer or, if the court thinks you need legal representation, from a court-appointed lawyer. Read Penal Code section 4852.08 to find out about your right to a lawyer.

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