A study released in the journal Crime & Delinquency in 2014 showed that 49 percent of young black men, 44 percent of young Hispanic men, and 38 percent of young white men had been arrested at least once by the time they turned 23. Among young women, 20 percent of whites, 18 percent of Hispanics, and 16 percent of blacks experienced an arrest by age 23.
Those can seem like startling statistics, but they also can demonstrate that sometimes people make mistakes, especially when they’re young. They make bad decisions or fall in with the wrong crowd, and that can lead to the black mark of an arrest on their permanent record.
Not all of those young people will go on to be lifelong offenders, or even to be arrested again. Yet the stigma of an arrest or a conviction can follow them for years — or forever — unless they take steps to try to clear their criminal records through expungement. This is where a San Diego criminal defense lawyer can help you work through this complex process and help you move on from your past.
Clearing Your California Criminal Record – How a San Diego Criminal Attorney Can Help
Technically, California doesn’t offer what most people think of as expungement of a conviction. Your criminal case is not sealed or erased from your record, as happens in a more traditional expungement process. What California offers instead of expungement is a process called a “Petition for Dismissal” by which you can have your case re-opened and your charge dismissed.
If your petition is successful, then your case will be altered to reflect the new disposition that your case was dismissed. Any guilty plea or jury verdict is withdrawn, and your record no longer shows that you were convicted of the offense. Your record may read that the case was dismissed “in the interests of justice” or “IOJ.”
Who Can Petition for Dismissal in California?
Under California Penal Code §1203.4, 1203.4a or 1203.41, you may be eligible to petition for dismissal of your misdemeanor or felony conviction if:
- You were convicted of a misdemeanor, or a felony that could have been charged as a misdemeanor, also known as a “wobbler”
- You were sentenced to incarceration in a county jail, probation, and/or a fine
- You completed your probation, if that was your sentence
- You don’t have any current criminal charges, and are not on probation or serving a jail sentence for a criminal offense other than the one you are petitioning to have dismissed
You will not be eligible to have your conviction dismissed if:
- You served time in state prison for the offense
- It was a felony that could not be reduced to a misdemeanor
- You violated your probation
- Your offense was an infraction
California law explicitly excludes certain offenses from eligibility for a petition for dismissal. A criminal defense lawyer with experience handling petitions for dismissal can explain whether your conviction is one that is eligible for dismissal.
Why Should I Pursue a Petition for Dismissal?
There are some things that a petition for dismissal won’t accomplish. For example, a petition for dismissal will not:
- Remove a criminal charge from your record
- Restore your right to own a gun
- Eliminate a requirement that you register as a sex offender
- Remove a driver’s license suspension or revocation
- Prevent your conviction from counting as a strike under California’s “three strikes” law
However, there also are a number of benefits you may experience if you are successful in getting your conviction dismissed. Those include:
- You won’t be required to disclose the charge to potential employers
- Employers can’t discriminate against you since for all intents and purposes you won’t have been convicted
- Your charge may no longer be a barrier toward getting a professional license
- Your charge may not affect your immigration status
If you’re considering a petition for dismissal, an experienced San Diego criminal attorney can go over the details of your case and talk to you about whether an expungement might benefit you. A lawyer also can help you through the process and make sure that all of your paperwork is in order so that you have the best chance at getting your petition approved.
Other Ways to Clean Up Your California Criminal Record – San Diego Expungement Lawyer
Even if you’re not eligible for a petition for dismissal, there may be other ways that you can clean up your criminal record. There are a few different options, depending on your circumstances and the type of offense involved. Those include:
- Sealing Your Arrest Record — Under California Penal Code §851.8, you can petition to have your misdemeanor or felony arrest record sealed if you were arrested or detained, but were never convicted because charges were never filed, your case was dismissed before trial, or you were acquitted of the crime. Infractions are not eligible to be sealed under this process. To get your arrest record sealed, you must be able to prove that you were factually innocent of the crime for which you were arrested.
- Certificate of Rehabilitation — You may be able to pursue a certificate of rehabilitation, which says that you have been rehabilitated since your conviction. Typically, this is used for felony offenses. One benefit of a certificate of rehabilitation is that if you’re required to register as a sex offender, it may relieve you of that requirement. It also may help if you’re trying to get a professional license and have a conviction on your record.
- Pardon — A pardon from the governor restores many of the rights you lose when convicted of a crime. It does not seal your record or erase your conviction, but it can restore your right to own a firearm and some other rights as a citizen. However, pardons tend to be challenging to get.