How to Clean Up Your Conviction
Disclaimer: This guide is intended as general information only. Your situation may have factors requiring different procedures or forms. If you need further assistance, consult a lawyer.
Click here to download this guide with step-by-step instructions for completing the forms.
Expungement is a method for cleaning up your criminal record. This procedure reopens your criminal case, dismisses the conviction, and re-closes the case without a conviction. In effect, you are no longer a convicted person. However, the case record itself will still exist, and the expungement will appear on your record.
Not all convictions can be dismissed. Expungement is limited to cases in which the defendant was sentenced to county jail time, probation, a fine, or a combination of those three. Additionally, the Penal Codes permitting expungment of criminal records expressly prohibit certain types of convictions from being dismissed. Most of these exceptions involve serious vehicle code violations (those that result in two or more points on your driving record) or sexual offenses against minors. For a detailed list of exceptions see Penal Code § 1203.4 and Penal Code § 1203.4a.
There are three types of expungement:
- The first, governed by Penal Code § 1203.4, will expunge cases in which probation was part of the sentence.
- The second, under Penal Code § 1203.4a, will expunge cases in which there was no probation.
- The third, under Penal Code § 17, will reduce a felony conviction to a misdemeanor. This misdemeanor can then be dismissed. Felonies meeting the criteria under Penal Code § 17 are often called "wobblers," meaning they could be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor.
If you received state prison as your sentence, you will need to file paperwork for a Certificate of Rehabilitation, rather than a Petition and Order for Dismissal. More information is available from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation at http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/BOPH/docs/apply_for_pardon.pdf
Although your conviction may be dismissed, restrictions resulting from the conviction cannot. An expungement does not:
- Remove the conviction from your criminal history. California and FBI criminal history records will still show the conviction and the subsequent dismissal.
- Seal the court case file from public inspection. The court file remains public record.
- Reinstate your right to possess firearms. In some cases, reduction of a non-violent felony to a misdemeanor may accomplish this.
- Relieve you of your duty to register as a sex offender. In some cases, this may be accomplished by a different motion to the court.
- Allow you to omit the conviction from applications for government-issued licenses. You must disclose your conviction and expungement in your license application.
- Allow you to omit the conviction from application for government employment. If you are applying for a government job, a job that requires security clearance, or a job that requires a government-issued license, certificate, or permit, you must disclose the conviction and expungement.
- Allow you to hold public office, if the conviction prevented you from doing so.
- Prevent the conviction from being used to refuse or revoke a government license or permit, such as real estate license, teaching credential, security guard certificate, etc.
- Prevent the conviction from being used as a "prior." The dismissed conviction can be used for determining sentencing enhancements in subsequent convictions.
- Prevent the conviction from being used by the DMV. Expunged convictions may be used to suspend or revoke driving privileges.
- Prevent the conviction from being used by US Citizenship and Immigration Services. In many situations, an expunged conviction may be considered for removal or exclusion purposes.
For most people, the benefits of an expungement far outweigh these restrictions. Under California Labor Code § 432.7, employers cannot ask about arrests that did not end in conviction, or about any diversion or similar programs. If the employer is aware of any such arrests or programs, they cannot use this information to make hiring, promotion, or firing decisions.
Once a conviction is expunged, it becomes an arrest that did not end in conviction. Legally, you may answer "No" to these types of questions when applying with a private employer. Keep in mind, though, that background checks typically go back 10 years, and employers can see that you had a conviction dismissed. Answering "No" may look dishonest. A better response may be "Yes, expungement granted." When applying for government employment, you must disclose the conviction and expungement.
Step 1. Determine if You are Eligible to Expunge Your Conviction
- Your conviction must meet the guidelines described in Penal Code § 1203.4, Penal Code § 1203.4a or Penal Code § 17. These code sections provide very specific guidelines about qualifying charges and sentences. Be sure to read those code sections carefully, because there are many exceptions.
- At least one year must have passed since your conviction.
- You must have completed the terms of your sentence. In most situations, the court will not grant an expungement until your sentence is complete. This means you have completed your period of incarceration and/or probation, and paid all fines, fees, and restitution in full. You must also appear at all DMV hearings, and pay all DMV fines and fees. If you wish to make a payment, or set up a payment plan, contact the Department of Revenue and Recovery (DRR) at one of these locations:
- 700 H Street, Sacramento, CA 95814
- 4100 Branch Center Drive, Sacramento, CA 9582
DRR can also be reached at 916-875-7500 or DRRMail@saccounty.net. See http://www.drr.saccounty.net/Pages/default.aspx for more information.
If you are still on probation for this (or any other) conviction, you may ask the court to terminate your probation early. See the Motion to Terminate Probation guide on our website at http://www.saclaw.org/pages/motion-terminate-probation.aspx for instructions on this procedure.
- You cannot be serving a sentence for any offense, or be charged with the commission of any other offense. If you are still on probation for another offense, you will need to complete the terms of that sentence, or have that probation terminated prior to petitioning for an expungement.
- You must not have received another conviction within one year of the first.
- Your probation for the conviction you're trying to expunge must not have been revoked, and not reinstated.
Step 2. Determine which Type of Expungement Applies to Your Situation
As mentioned above, there are three types of expungement available. The type you use depends on the original conviction and sentence. The information below will help you determine which type of expungement is right for you.
a) Misdemeanor Convictions
- Probation ordered and completed
File a Petition for Dismissal under Penal Code § 1203.4.
- Probation ordered, but not yet completed
File a Motion to Terminate Probation (see the Motion to Terminate Probation guide on our website at http://www.saclaw.org/pages/motion-terminate-probation.aspx for instructions). If that is granted, file a Petition for Dismissal under Penal Code § 1203.4.
- Probation not ordered
File a Petition for Dismissal under Penal Code § 1203.4a.
b) Felony Convictions
- County Jail and/or Probation ordered and completed
File a Petition under Penal Code § 17(b)(3) to reduce the felony to a misdemeanor, and Petition for Dismissal under Penal Code § 1203.4 to expunge the misdemeanor.
- Probation ordered, but not yet completed
File a Motion to Terminate Probation (see the Motion to Terminate Probation guide on our website at http://www.saclaw.org/pages/motion-terminate-probation.aspx for instructions). If that is granted, file a Petition under Penal Code § 17(b) to reduce the felony to a misdemeanor, and Petition for Dismissal under Penal Code § 1203.4 to expunge the misdemeanor.
- State Prison was ordered
If you were sentenced to State Prison, you are not eligible for the procedures described in the guide. Instead, you will need to apply for a Certificate of Rehabilitation and/or a Pardon. More information is available from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation at http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/BOPH/docs/apply_for_pardon.pdf
Step 3. Obtain a Copy of Your Criminal Record
You will need a copy of your criminal record or case information for each conviction you wish to expunge. Your criminal record or case history includes information essential to filling out the expungement papers.
To get case information for your post-1988 Sacramento convictions, visit http://www.saccourt.ca.gov. Click on "Search Our Case Index," and use the search engine to find your case(s).
For a copy of your state-wide criminal record, visit a Live Scan fingerprinting site. After providing your fingerprints and paying the required fee, a copy of your criminal record will be mailed to you. To find a Live Scan site near you, see http://ag.ca.gov/fingerprints/publications/contact.php. More information about requesting your statewide criminal history is available at http://ag.ca.gov/fingerprints/security.php. The fee may be waived if you are low income. Call the Attorney General's Records Review unit at (916) 227-3835 for more information.
Step 4. Complete the Required Forms
There are two forms you will need to expunge your conviction. The same forms are used for all three types of expungement. Click here for instructions for completing these forms.
These forms can be downloaded from the links above, and are available at the law library from these books:
It is often a good idea to attach a declaration stating why you want the expungement and explaining your situation in life. In this declaration, you may want to discuss:
- Your plans for the future;
- The reasons you offended, and how your life is different today than it was when you offended;
- How the conviction has hurt your employment chances;
- If you have received any training or education since your conviction;
- Any occurrence in your life that changed how you interact with your community; and
- Any 12-step or religious affiliations you have.
All declarations submitted to the court must contain the words "I declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of the state of California that the foregoing is true and correct." Declarations should be no more than one page long, and may be typed or handwritten. You may use Form MC-030, "Declaration," if you wish. Click here for a sample declaration.
Letters from employers, clergy, or other community members can be convincing, but should not be attached to your petition. You may provide these to the judge at your hearing.
If you have changed your name since your conviction, fill out the forms with the name under which you were convicted. Sign the forms with your current name.
You will need to complete a separate Petition and Order for each conviction you wish to expunge.
Step 5. Copy and Assemble your Documents
Make five copies each of:
- Petition for Dismissal (CR-180)
- Order for Dismissal (CR-181)
- Declaration, if included.
Two-hole punch the original and all copies of your documents.
- Proof that all fines, fees and restitution are paid in full
- Processing fee or Fee Waiver forms (see Step 6)
- Self-addressed stamped envelope if you want a copy of the signed Order mailed to you.
Step 6. File Your Forms
Expungement forms are filed in the county where you were convicted. For courthouse locations, see http://www.courts.ca.gov/superiorcourts.htm. In Sacramento, these are filed at the Gordon D. Schaber Sacramento County Courthouse, located at 720 Ninth St. in downtown Sacramento. If you are filing in another county, please be sure to check with that court to determine the correct location to file.
There is a fee for processing your Petition. Penal Code § 1203.4 sets the maximum fee for probation cases where probation was ordered at $150 (Sacramento currently charges $120). Penal Code § 1203.4a sets the maximum fee for convictions without probation at $60 (Sacramento currently charges $60). Fee waivers are available for low-income petitioners. For more information, see the Fee Waivers guide on our website at http://www.saclaw.org/pages/fee-waiver.aspx.
Step 7. Serve Your Forms
Service is a formal way of giving copies of court documents to all parties in a case. In an expungement proceeding, the District Attorney and Probation Department must be served.
In Sacramento County, the court will serve your papers for you. If you are filling in a different county, contact the criminal court clerk to determine the service requirements and procedures in that county. Many will serve the documents for you. If not, when you file your documents with the court, the clerk will give you stamped copies of your papers. These must be served on the District Attorney and the Probation Department in that county. The person performing service will then complete a Proof of Service form, and turn it in to the court.
Step 8. Attend Your Court Hearing, if Required
For many people, no court hearing will be scheduled. Instead, the petition is automatically granted as long as you have met all the requirements. On your petition, the clerk will indicate the date by which the court will make a ruling. On or after that date, you can check the court's website at https://services.saccourt.ca.gov/indexsearchnew/ to see if your Petition was granted.
If a hearing is required for your case, the court will notify you of the hearing date.
Step 9. If Your Petition is Denied
If you attend the hearing, you may ask the judge what you can do to get your conviction expunged. You may re-file your petition for expungement in 3-6 months, after you've made the changes recommended by the judge.
FOR HELP EXPUNGING YOUR CRIMINAL CONVICTION
VLSP Criminal Records Expungement Clinic
http://www.vlsp.org/criminal.asp - 551-2155
915 Broadway, Sacramento
Services provided: Assistance expunging criminal records.
Appointments are scheduled for the week on Monday mornings, beginning at 8:00 am, at the site of the Clinic.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
California Courts' Self Help Website
This website includes a section with information and instructions on cleaning up your criminal record.
Expunging Your Conviction Video
Co-sponsored by the Sacramento County Public Law Library and the Voluntary Legal Services Program of Northern California.
This video walks you through preparing the forms necessary for the expungement process.
Sacramento County Superior Court Dismissal(s) Instruction Sheet
This guide from the court describes the procedures and requirements for dismissing a conviction in Sacramento County.
At the Law Library:
How to Seal Your Juvenile and Criminal Records in California KFC 1194 .Z9 S53 (Self-Help)
California Criminal Defense Practice KFC 1155 .C342, Chap. 103.
Electronic Access: On the law library computers, using the Matthew Bender CD.
California Criminal Law Procedure and Practice KFC 1155 .C35, Chap. 41.
Electronic Access: On the law library's computers, using OnLaw.
California Criminal Practice: Motions, Jury Instructions, & Sentencing KFC 1155 .A65 R83, Chap. 59.
updated 05/13 mpj