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How to Remove & Destroy Criminal Arrests and Convictions: Criminal Defense Lawyers Explain

Updated: Aug 1

There’s great news for anyone looking to clear his or her prior record of criminal arrests and/or criminal convictions in California. With some remaining exceptions, new and existing California criminal law now permits almost all prior criminal arrest and/or criminal convictions to be cleared from public or private access in one way or another.


Other post-conviction remedies may also now apply under new California law, such as the removal of the duty to register as a sex offender in some circumstances. Keep in mind that when certain misdemeanor or felony criminal convictions are removed from a person’s criminal record, other consequences of that misdemeanor or felony might also be removed, such as the prohibition of the right to own or possess firearms (exceptions may apply).


For more information on how to clear or remove a prior criminal arrest or conviction, consider the following new and existing California laws:


Seal & Destroy Criminal Arrest Records


A prior criminal arrest may be cleared and destroyed from public records in some cases. For example, when a person is arrested for a particular crime, but the district attorney does not file criminal charges based on that arrest, then in most circumstances the arrested person may have his or her record of arrest sealed and destroyed. A petition to seal and destroy a criminal arrest might also apply to a person who was criminally charged by the district attorney, but the criminal charges were later dismissed for lack of sufficient evidence, or where the defendant is found not guilty of the criminal charges after a jury or court trial.


For a person to qualify for a seal and destroy petition the statute of limitations for the crime alleged must have expired. Other exceptions may apply, especially in domestic violence and child endangerment cases. For more information, see Seal & Destroy Prior Criminal Arrests & PC 851.


How to Expunge a Misdemeanor


Expunging, or ‘clearing,’ a prior misdemeanor conviction is a frequent practice in criminal law. Most defendants who want to expunge their criminal record do so to expand their employment opportunities.


To expunge a criminal record simply means that the criminal conviction is ‘cleared.’ An expunged record does not mean that all consequences of a criminal conviction are necessarily removed. For example, an expunged criminal conviction does not allow a defendant to own a firearm if he is otherwise prohibited from owning a firearm based upon his criminal record. Other exceptions also apply.


How to proceed on an expungement depends on whether the defendant successfully completed any misdemeanor probation requirements. An expungement is not a guarantee upon petition in some cases, and a defendant who seeks to expunge his or her criminal conviction should seek the advice of a criminal defense attorney before proceeding.


Note: An expunged criminal conviction is not necessarily voided or completely cleared from public records. For more information on expungements, including other limitations to expunged criminal records, see Expungements, or contact our criminal defense lawyers for a free consultation.


How to Expunge a Felony


Expunging, or ‘removing’ a prior felony conviction is also common in California criminal defense attorney practice. In fact, new California law now allows the expungement of certain felony convictions, such as unlawful sexual intercourse (formally “statutory rape”) that were not necessarily capable of being expunged in the past.


Again, expungement of a criminal conviction is generally good for expanding employment opportunities of the formally convicted; however, just like a misdemeanor expungement, a felony expungement does not relieve the defendant of all consequences that stemmed from the felony conviction. Similarly, an expungement, by itself, does not relieve a person of the duty to register as a sex offender pursuant to PC 290 registration.


Also, an expungement of a felony conviction is not necessarily a complete clearing or removal of the prior felony record from public view. A successful expungement petition is not a guarantee. A defendant seeking to expunge his or her felony conviction should seek the advice of a criminal defense lawyer. For more information, see Expungement.


Exclusion from Duty to Register as a Sex Offender


In some cases, A defendant, who was previously ordered to register as a sex offender for life after a qualifying sex offense, might have that life registration requirement reduced to ten or twenty years. This is known as California’s new Three Tier Sex Offender Registration Requirement. Under the new law, lower-level sex offenses, such as misdemeanor sexual battery, misdemeanor indecent exposure, misdemeanor annoying or molesting a child, etc., might only have to register as a sex offender for ten years. Other more serious offenses, such as lewd and lascivious acts on a child, will have a sex offender registration requirement of twenty years, and the most severe sex offense convictions will continue to require a life-time sex offender registration requirement.


Keep in mind that the new sex offender registration tier system is not a guarantee of the length of time a person might have to register as a sex offender. Rather, if a person otherwise qualifies under the new law, then he or she will still be required to petition the court for relief. Many obstacles to a successful petition might apply, such as an extension of the time requirement for a defendant who violated probation or previously failed to register when required. For more information, see California’s New Sex Offender Registration Tier System, or seek the advice of a sex crimes criminal defense lawyer without delay.


Exclusion from Sex Offender Website Listing


In some cases, when a person is required to register as a sex offender pursuant to PC 290, that person may nevertheless be excluded from the California Sex Offender Website. This is a narrow exception to the website listing requirement and applies only in some cases where the defendant and the alleged victim are related to each other within a certain degree of consanguinity, marriage, or adoption (relationship by blood, marriage, or legal proceeding). Other requirements may also apply. For more information on sex offender website exclusion after the conviction of a California sex offense, call a California Sex Crimes Criminal Defense Lawyer without delay.

Removal of a Criminal Protective Order


A criminal protective order, or CPO, is issued in criminal cases where the defendant is charged with some type of assault or threats type crime, such as criminal threats, inflict corporal injury to spouse, battery, etc. The criminal protective order is sometimes complete, which means that the defendant may not contact the alleged victim in any manner. Other times, the criminal protective order might be qualified, which means that the defendant and the alleged victim may have peaceful contact as decided by the alleged victim. A qualified criminal protective order is more common in cases where the defendant and the alleged victim might be related, such as in cases child endangerment or domestic battery.


In any event, a criminal protective order may expire on its own without further notice, such as when there is no reissuance of the CPO after the stated expiration date (common where a criminal case is dismissed without prosecution). Other times, the criminal protective order might be removed where the defendant applies for such removal.

Note: Upon application, the CPO petition will be served on the prosecuting attorney and on the probation department. The defendant should not directly serve the allege victim. Rather, the probation department and/or the prosecuting attorney will usually notify the alleged victim of the defendant’s petition to remove a criminal protective order.


For more information on the removal of a criminal protective order, see Criminal Protective Orders Explained, or visit one our Inland Empire criminal defense lawyers for a free in-office, first-time consultation.


Early Termination of Probation


A defendant, who is place on misdemeanor or felony probation for a specific amount of time, might petition the court to have the probation terminated early (before the expiration of the stated probation period). In general, the closer a probationer is to the expiration of his or her probation, the better the chances that the court will grant the petition to terminate probation early. Also, an early termination of probation application is usually better received by the court when the stated reason for the request is to benefit a third party.


Also, if the court grants the early termination of probation petition, the defendant may immediately request an expungement of the criminal conviction. In fact, many petitions for early termination of probation are filed jointly with a request for expungement. To learn more about early termination of probation, including the possible negative consequences from such a petition, see Early Termination of Probation, or speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney.


Reducing a Felony to a Misdemeanor


In some cases, where a person is charged with a felony crime, and that felony crime is listed as a wobbler, the felony may be reduced to a misdemeanor (PC 17b).


Note: A wobbler is a criminal charge that may be filed either as a misdemeanor, or alternatively as a felony, such as the crime of vehicle theft, welfare fraud, or criminal threats, etc.


Whether or not a felony will be reduced to a misdemeanor, either before or after a criminal conviction for a felony, depends on many factors, such as the defendant’s criminal history, the reasons for the reduction, the facts and circumstances of the criminal case, the presence of any mitigating or aggravating factors in the criminal case, the length of time since the defendant’s convictions, the presence of any plea bargain between the district attorney and the defendant, and more.


Keep in mind that a petition to reduce a felony to a misdemeanor may be heard at the same time as an early termination of probation (see above) and a petition for expungement. To learn more reducing a felony to a misdemeanor, see wobbler crimes, or visit one of Inland Empire criminal defense lawyers today for a free first visit, in-office consultation.


Certificate of Rehabilitation


A certificate of rehabilitation is essentially a document that states the defendant is rehabilitated from his or her criminal conduct. A granted certificate of rehabilitation generally relieves the defendant of not only the criminal record, but it also relieves the defendant of any requirements of that criminal conviction. For example, a defendant who has a criminal conviction expunged is not generally released from the requirement to register as a sex offender; however, a defendant who has obtained a certificate of rehabilitation is generally released from the duty to register as a sex offender (for the crime related to the alleged sex offense).


Not every case is eligible for a certificate of rehabilitation. While most felonies are eligible for a certificate of rehabilitation after certain time requirements are met (i.e., California residency requirements and post-conviction period of non-criminal activity), the most serious of felonies will not qualify, such as lewd and lascivious acts on a minor, forceable rape, torture, and more.


A certificate of rehabilitation usually requires a person to have the underlying criminal offense already expunged. Also, a certificate of rehabilitation will usually take several months to prepare, file and argue in court. District attorneys will almost always oppose a certificate of rehabilitation (unlike many expungement petitions); therefore, a criminal defense attorney should be retained to handle these difficult petitions. For more information on certificate of rehabilitation (PC 4852 Petition) and the limitations of a certificate of rehabilitation, See Certificate of Rehabilitation, or visit one of our Inland Empire criminal defense lawyers today.


California Governor's Pardon


A California pardon, also called a Governor’s Pardon, releases the defendant from all California consequences of a criminal conviction. There may be federal limitations (i.e., military service consequences, immigration consequences etc.).


Essentially, a California pardon carries the same effects as a certificate of rehabilitation (see above), except that a request for pardon might be the only option for defendant who otherwise do not qualify for certificate of rehabilitation (i.e., convictions for very serious crimes).


Note: A granted petition for certificate of rehabilitation is an automatic petition for a Governor’s pardon in California. On the other hand, a defendant who does not qualify for a certificate of rehabilitation must directly petition the Governor for a pardon. For more information on California Pardon Petitions, contact our criminal defense lawyers for a free consultation.


Other Relief Options: In addition to the options listed above, other post-conviction relief options include withdrawing a guilty plea, criminal appeals, and more.


For more information on how to clear or remove a prior criminal arrest or criminal conviction and other post-conviction relief, please contact our criminal defense lawyers for a free consultation. Our criminal defense team will patiently explain your rights and options regarding expungements, new California Three Tier Sex Offender Registration Law (AB 384), Certificates of Rehabilitation and more. There is no charge for a first-time, in-office consultation with one of experienced criminal defense lawyers. Our office is conveniently located in Redlands, near all Inland Empire Criminal Court, including San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, Victorville, and Joshusa Tree, Call today!


909-913-3138


Expungement, Seal & Destroy Criminal Arrest, Certificate of Rehabilitation, & More.
How to remove criminal arrest & criminal conviction from criminal history

Note: There is no attorney – client relationship created by use of this information. This information is not to be used in place of advice with a California criminal defense lawyer. While we strive to keep this information current and accurate, there is no guarantee that the information contained herein is current or accurate. No guarantee is made with respect to any outcome in a criminal matter.

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