The Importance of Reducing and Expunging Convictions
I get a lot of questions these days about expunging convictions, reducing felonies to misdemeanors, sealing records and even certificates of rehabilitation and pardons.
First, there are a lot of legal terms I just used. These terms apply only to California and California state court convictions.
- Expungements under Penal Code Section 1203.4: When probation is granted in a case and it is successfully completed for the entire term then probation naturally expires. After probation expires, or upon early and successful termination of probation, we may ask the court to let us withdraw our conviction and dismiss the case. In many cases expungement is mandatory, meaning the court must dismiss the case. In some case, as with the case of a probation violation, expungement is discretionary.
- Reducing Felonies to Misdemeanors: When a felony is punishable by either time in prison or time in the county jail, this is what we call a wobbler or reducible felony. By agreement of the parties or by order of court the case can be reduced to a misdemeanor under Penal Code Section 17. Once reduced, the case becomes a misdemeanor for all purposes.
- Sealing Records: In California this only applies to juvenile cases. After successful completion of a juvenile case and achieving the age of 18 with no new offenses we can petition the court to seal our juvenile record. I regret that we cannot do this in adult cases.
- Certificate of Rehabilitation and Pardon: Pardon’s in state cases only come from the Governor. I don’t happen to know the governor, but I do know the court system. We can petition the court for a certificate of rehabilitation. This process is also referred to as an indirect pardon because, once it is granted, it is formal request to the governor to grant the pardon. It often gets granted, usually toward the end of the governor’s term.
No Magic Wands
The first thing that everyone should understand is that there are no magic wands when it comes to cleaning up your history. Avoiding a conviction in the first place is the best way to avoid a record. Minimizing criminal charges and punishment is choice number two. After that, we need to be successful on probation and avoid ANY violations of probation or new cases.
When the time comes to start cleaning records, either after probation is over or after a motion to terminate probation early, we first try to reduce any felonies that we can to a misdemeanor. Then we try to expunge convictions, starting with the newest and most serious cases first. From there we try to knock them out one by one until they are all gone. And, if at first we don’t succeed and a request is denied, we can reset the request for six months or a year later and try it again. When a judge realizes that we are serious, at some point he may change his mind and grant the request.
Then, after all the cases are expunged, go request your “official” rap sheet/criminal history from the California Department of Justice. It’s worth taking the time and paying the money to get it because this is the only real rap sheet there is. Make sure the rap sheet is accurate and if it’s not, go through the process to get it corrected.
The benefit of cleaning your record is potentially huge. First if you reduce a felony to a misdemeanor, it becomes a misdemeanor for all purposes. Congratulations. Next, if you expunge a conviction, felony or misdemeanor, you can honestly tell someone you have never been arrested or convicted of a crime. This excludes governmental licensing and the state lottery. If you actually get a pardon, although it may be rare, you get all of your rights back from before the conviction.
Please note that cases cannot be expunged if the defendant either went to state prison or where state prison was imposed and suspended. In these cases, certificates of rehabilitation or pardons are your only hope.
Post conviction relief does not undue history. Court records are sometimes mistakenly released to the public and may even be accessed through the Freedom of Information Act and by any government agencies. When in doubt, disclose the conviction even if it has been expunged. Explain the situation and hope for the best. My 20 years of experience has taught me that honesty is more favored by employers over technical, legal explanations.
If you have questions about cleaning up your criminal history, please call me:
Attorney Jeffrey Vallens (818) 783-5700 or (888) 764-4340 or
Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit my sites: