How to Get Rid of Criminal Record in California
By Masood R. Khan

This column is of a general nature and is not to be construed as legal advice. Be sure to consult an attorney for your specific legal issues.
It’s not something most people would ever want to talk about or even admit. But there are many people out there with a criminal record. Even seemingly minor traffic violations of the law can become part of your criminal record. Even though a person may not have served any jail term and only had to pay a minimal fine, some violations are still charged as misdemeanors, and become part of your criminal record. This criminal record is accessible to anyone who wishes to research your background. So what is an otherwise upstanding member of society to do who has that skeleton in his closet from the past?
Under California law, with some exceptions, a person who has been convicted of a felony, or a misdemeanor, may petition the court to have that conviction "expunged". That is, it can be completely removed from the record.
Certain offenses in California, such as some sex crimes and certain Vehicle Code violations, may be ineligible for expungement. Other crimes which involve serving prison time (not jail) are not eligible for expungement but may be eligible for a certificate of rehabilitation or pardon.
The Process
If you were convicted of a misdemeanor or a felony, for which you were not sentenced to state prison, you can petition the court for a dismissal. Any conviction which results in a penalty of one year or more is a felony and any conviction with a penalty of less than one year is a misdemeanor. If a person has to spend time behind bars for a misdemeanor, he or she is sent to a county jail. Any time served for more than a year for a felony is in the state prison system. Thus, if you were given jail time, probation, a fine, or a combination of them, you may be eligible to file a formal petition requesting the court to permit you to withdraw your plea of guilty, or nolo contendere (no contest), or verdict of guilty if you went to trial, and enter a not guilty plea instead. The court can set aside and dismiss your conviction.
Four basic requirements exist for eligibility for expungement in California:
1. You cannot be on probation and must have completed your probationary period;
2. If you were not placed on probation at the time of sentencing, one year must have elapsed before you can apply for expungement;
3. If you were placed on formal probation when sentenced, you may be required to file your petition through the Probation Department;
4. A separate petition is required for each conviction
If you were convicted of a misdemeanor and are still on probation, you may be able to request an early release from probation and file a petition to have your conviction(s) dismissed. Also, if you were convicted of a felony and are still on probation, you may be able to request an early release from probation and petition the court to reduce your felony conviction to misdemeanor and dismiss it.
The Effects of Expungement in California
Once an expungement is successfully executed, your criminal record will no longer reflect a conviction for the charged crime. Instead it will be listed as a dismissal.
It is important to realize that although the term "expungement" implies that the crime is erased completely, that is not what literally happens in California. Rather than being erased, what actually happens is that your criminal record is updated to show that the conviction was replaced by a dismissal such that you no longer stand convicted of the offense.
Once all of your convictions have been expunged, you can truthfully answer the question to all private employers that you have never been convicted of a crime.
If questioned by government employers, or government licensing applications, if asked if you have ever been convicted of a crime, you must respond, "Yes, Conviction dismissed” and in California, those government employers, and licensing agencies, must then treat you as if you had never been convicted of the offense.
It is still important to know that in California, even though your criminal record is expunged:
1) You will still not be permitted to own, or possess, a firearm until you otherwise would be able to; 2)Your dismissed conviction(s) can still be used to increase your punishment in future criminal cases; 3) Your prior conviction(s) can still affect your driving privilege.
Diversion Program in California
If you were referred to a "diversion" program in California your record will have already been changed. This is because under the diversion program, your record will have already been changed to show a dismissal rather than a conviction once you finish the diversion program. If you failed to successfully complete the diversion program, however, your conviction will still be on your record unless, and until, you have it expunged.
Juvenile Record
Often times, due to an absence of discretion, teenagers may act recklessly which results in criminal convictions for their behavior. In California juvenile records do appear as a part of your criminal record and continue to do so even after age 18. After the 18th birthday, you are eligible to petition the court to have your juvenile records sealed. Once sealed, no one can gain access to them and they will remain sealed until they are completely destroyed five years after the date of sealing. You must note however, that juvenile records are sealed ONLY upon petitioning the court and are not sealed automatically at age 18.
(Masood Khan is attorney with Khan & Associates. He can be reached by
telephone at (888) KHAN LAW or via email at

Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.