Everything You Need to Know About California Expungements

When successful, California expungements help individuals with criminal records avoid many of the consequences of having a conviction on their record. Learn more here.

What Does Expungement Mean in California?


The term “expungement” refers to the process of petitioning a court to set aside a previous conviction. Under California Penal Code section pc 1203.4, expungement is available in any case in which the court “determines that [the] defendant should be granted…relief.” 

In layman’s terms, this means that the court has the discretion to decide whether or not your case deserves to be expunged and thus removed from your criminal record. Although certain things such as completing probation or having your probation terminated early are mentioned in pc 1203.4, the court ultimately gets to decide whether or not to expunge your conviction. 

How to Obtain a California Expungement


There are several mandatory prerequisites to having a conviction expunged in California.

  • First, you must have paid all of the fines and court fees associated with your conviction in full.
  • Second, you must not have served time in state prison for the crime of which you were convicted. The only exception to this rule is if you would have been sentenced to county jail, rather than state prison, had you been convicted after the passage of Proposition 47. If you served time in state prison, you may still be eligible for a certificate of rehabilitation.
  • Third, you will not be eligible for expungement of a past conviction if you are currently being charged with a criminal offense or if you are currently serving a sentence in jail or prison.
  • Finally, expungement is not available to individuals convicted of certain sex offenses.

Even if you are not eligible for expungement, you may be eligible for a certificate of rehabilitation, a governor’s pardon, or some other form of relief. A certificate of rehabilitation can restore your right to own a firearm, serve on a jury, and to vote in elections.

Also, under California Penal Code Section 1203.3, a defendant can request early termination of probation from the court. If granted, this typically gets her or his criminal record expunged at the same time. An experienced California attorney can help you to obtain the best possible resolution in your case.

Although not technically required, it is generally easier to obtain an expungement if you have complied with all of the aspects of your sentence, such as avoiding violations of the terms of your probation. However, the mere fact of a probation violation will not categorically bar you from obtaining an expungement.


Understanding the Expungement Process

When seeking an expungement, your attorney will first petition the court to review the record of your conviction.

  • Under Penal Code 1203.4, if the court is satisfied that your case deserves to be expunged, they will allow you to withdraw your guilty plea, nolo contendere (“no contest”) plea, or the finding of guilt that was entered against you.
  • Next, the court will allow you to enter a plea of “not guilty” and your conviction will be dismissed and set aside. This dismissal means that it will no longer be a part of your arrest record.

Typically, you will not have to attend a court hearing in order to complete the expungement process. Instead, in most cases, your attorney will be able to appear on your behalf.

How to Perform a California Expungement Background Check


Many individuals are concerned that a past conviction will show up when an employer, landlord, or other individual performs a “background check” on them. Although expungement will not make your past conviction “invisible” on a police background, your record will show that your conviction was “dismissed in the interests of justice.”

Contact attorney Valery Nechay today to better understand the post-conviction relief that may be available to you.


How Do Expungements California Affect Your Criminal Record and Employment?

The California Penal Code 1203.4 states that a successful expungement erases virtually “all penalties and disabilities resulting from the offense.” For many people, one of the most important benefits of expungement is the ability to answer “no” to the question of whether you have ever been convicted of a crime on future job applications. This can allow you to have a fresh start on your career without worrying about your criminal record.

In fact, the California Penal Code prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of a conviction that has been expunged. If an employer seeks information regarding a conviction that has been expunged, California law permits the employee to sue for money damages. There are some exceptions to this rule, such as if you are seeking a job in law enforcement.

Having a past conviction expunged may also benefit you in applying for housing, student loans, and professional licenses.

Expungement does not relieve you of any court-imposed obligation to register as a sex offender.

California Expungement Law


If you have been convicted of a felony, it may be possible to have your conviction reduced to a misdemeanor. Many crimes can be charged as misdemeanors or felonies – these are sometimes known as a “wobbler.” In these cases, the court retains jurisdiction to reduce the conviction from a felony to a misdemeanor, even years later.

In order to have a felony expunged, it is necessary to first have it reduced to a misdemeanor. Experienced California defense attorneys can review your criminal record and help determine if your previous felony conviction may be eligible for this type of change.


How Do I Expunge My Criminal Record in California?

Expungement in California can be a confusing and exhausting process and there are many opportunities for error. However, a skilled criminal defense lawyer can guide you through this procedure effectively.

First, you should know what forms you should fill out and get them filed with the court where the court case was heard. After that, you should prepare for your court hearing. Whether or not you, as a defendant, will have to be present, depends on the case. If the request is granted, your California criminal defense lawyer should seal the case and make your criminal history not visible to the public.

California Expungement Form

California courts have made the forms used to initiate the expungement process available to the general public. However, the law surrounding the expungement of past convictions is complex. Individuals who attempt to have their convictions expunged without the help of an experienced attorney sometimes fail for procedural reasons. Each county in the state of California has their own unique procedures.

Although you may be able to expunge your case by yourself, without hiring an attorney, that may not be the smartest move. The expungement process may end up in the judge denying your request, meaning you will have to wait before you can try again.

Some individuals don’t know how to resolve or overcome an opposing attorney’s objections. Their objections sometimes have little legal merit, but individuals representing themselves may not possess enough knowledge to know that. They also sometimes don’t know how to avoid common mistakes or how to persuade a judge to approve their case.

Frustratingly, the court may not provide any reason for their refusal to expunge your case. In many cases, the court or District Attorney may simply not understand the intricacies of expungement law. An experienced defense attorney can ensure that the law is applied correctly and give you the best chance to have your conviction removed from your criminal record.


How Long Does the CA Expungement Process Take?

If you are unsuccessful in obtaining an expungement of your conviction, it is important to understand that you may still petition the court for expungement in the future.

The reasons the judge gives for deciding not to expunge your conviction can vary from the forms having been filled out incorrectly to finding that you are not eligible under the law. For instance, some felony offenses that are not eligible for an expungement include serious sex crimes against children.

If you filed for expungement yourself and the judge denied your application, you should contact an experienced attorney to assist you in refiling. In the State of California, you may refile your expungement petition once six months have elapsed from the time your original petition was denied.

Although expunging a case can last from 60 to 120 days, in some cases courts can take longer, especially during the backlog of the COVID pandemic.

Other factors can also affect the length of the whole process, including whether the case is a felony or misdemeanor, the complexity of the case, as well as the length of time that has passed between the conviction and the filing of the expungement.

Hire a Skilled California Expungement Lawyer


Although expungement may relieve you from many of the consequences of having a conviction on your criminal record, if you were convicted of a felony, it cannot restore your right to own or possess a firearm unless you are qualified to do so following a PC 17b relief. If you were convicted of a misdemeanor you are not banned from owning or possessing a firearm under California law.

As you can see, the cost of having your past conviction expunged can vary depending on the complexity of your case. Contact attorney Valery Nechay today for a free consultation to understand your rights and the relief that may be available to you.


If you are under investigation or charged with a crime, I will consult with you in person and at no charge to you.