Being charged with a crime in California is never a pleasant ordeal. In addition to the fines, jail time, and burdensome court obligations, you have to think about your reputation. Unfortunately, criminal charges come with personal and professional consequences. However, California law allows individuals with criminal records to “clean their slate” through the process of expungement. Read on to learn if you qualify and how to file a petition for expungement in California.
California Expungement Meaning and Qualifications
Contrary to popular belief, petitioning for expungement does not mean asking for your record to be “cleaned”. Instead, with an expungement, your guilty plea or conviction is withdrawn and replaced with a permanent non-guilty plea. Then, the case is dismissed. In other words, an expungement process makes it seem as if a conviction never took place. That said, while state courts grant many expungements each year, not all convictions qualify.
Generally speaking, you can qualify for expungement in California if you meet all three of the following criteria AND you have paid all court-ordered fines.
- You are not currently serving probation
- You have not been charged with another crime
- Your crime was a misdemeanor or a felony that could have been charged as a misdemeanor.
On the other hand, you may not qualify for expungement if you:
- if you received a felony charge that resulted in a prison sentence;
- committed a sexual offense against a minor; or
- made a serious vehicle code violation that resulted in two or more points on your license.
File a DIY Petition for Expungement in California
If you’re looking to file a petition for expungement without an attorney in California, follow these steps:
1. Obtain a copy of your criminal record
You can get a copy of your record from the superior court.
2. Complete probation
California requires probation to be complete before expungement is granted. Therefore, if you have completed your probation or were never given probation, you can apply for expungement. That said, courts often grant early termination of probation. Thus, if you are still serving probation, you can petition the court to end your probation early.
3. Pay all fines, fees, and restitution
4. In the case of a felony, petition the court to reduce charges
In California, the only felonies that qualify for expungement are those that could have been charged as a misdemeanor, often called “wobbler” charges. If your sentence says the crime is “punishable by prison or by a term of not less than 365 days in jail,” then it is probably a “wobbler” and qualifies for expungement. Therefore, to expunge these convictions, you have to first petition the court to reduce the charges. If you can prove to the judge that you have rehabilitated your life and take responsibility for your actions, the request will usually be granted.
For non-“wobbler” felony convictions, the process of petitioning to reduce your charges will depend upon the type of sentencing. For example, if you were sentenced to county jail time and probation, you have to file two petitions. The first petition, PC 17b, will reduce the felony to a misdemeanor charge. The second, PC 1203.4, is a petition to have that misdemeanor charge dismissed. This process is fairly straightforward and usually takes 10 to 16 weeks depending on the court processing your documents.
If your felony charge resulted in a state prison sentence, you are only eligible for a dismissal if you have lived in the same county for five years. Also, you cannot file the same petitions as those in county jails. Instead, you have to file a petition for Certificate of Rehabilitation and Pardon. With this petition, you must prove to the judge that you have rehabilitated your life and are making every effort to change. After your request, the judge will decide whether they will reduce your charges to allow for dismissal.
5. In the case of a misdemeanor, complete and submit CR-180
California Penal Code section 1203.4a states the requirements of expunging a California misdemeanor, including completing and submitting form CR-180, the Petition for Dismissal. Note that you must submit the petition for expungement in the county of conviction.
Filing a petition for expungement in California usually costs between $100 – $400. However, the applicable fee will depend on the courthouse with which you submit the petition. That said, hiring an attorney to expunge a criminal record can range anywhere from $400 to $4,000 for a single criminal charge, plus the court costs.
Instead of working with an attorney, consider hiring a legal document assistant. For instance, using the services of A People’s Choice is a lower cost alternative than hiring an attorney to expunge a criminal record. Plus, we can help you draft all the necessary legal documents to file a petition for expungement in California. Contact A People’s Choice for more information.