How Do I Expunge My Criminal Record in California?

Below is a general discussion of the method of expunging an adult arrest record. Expunging a record is fact-specific with many unique exceptions and possibilities depending on your specific case. Expunging a record is a complicated and sometimes lengthy process. It is very important that you consult with an attorney to work with you and walk you through the steps needed to ensure that you have the best chance of having your criminal record expunged. Not only can an attorney assist you in court during any hearing in the process, but the attorney can also help you gather the evidence you will need to present the strongest case that your record deserves to be expunged. The attorneys of Theta Law Firm can help you accomplish this.

Please consult our other articles dealing with information on how to seal an adult arrest record in California and how to seal a juvenile record in California, which can be found here: .

What Does 'Expungement' Mean?

In California, expungement and sealing of a record are usually referred to synonymously. However, there is no true expungement in California because the criminal record is not destroyed even if a particular charge is expunged. Instead, expungement in California refers to the process where the criminal proceeding is re-opened, the guilty plea or verdict is withdrawn, a conviction is turned into a dismissal, and the criminal proceeding is again closed without the conviction.

This is also different from sealing an arrest record (another article that is found on this site). The expungement process can only take place after you have been charged and convicted (whether it be by plea or after trial). Even after the charge is expunged, there will still be a public record of the case and a finding of dismissal in the interest of justice.

How does Expunging My Record Impact My Job Prospects?

After expungement and dismissal, the expunged record no longer counts as a conviction when applying for private employment or if a private employer asks whether you have ever been convicted of a crime. Generally, in California after your record has been expunged, if applying for government employment or a government license and asked if you have been convicted of a crime you must state "Yes, conviction dismissed" and it will not count against you in California (so long as you are not applying for a political position or a police officer position)[1].

Am I Eligible For Expungement?

In order to be eligible for expungement[2]:

  • You must have been convicted in State Court and NOT Federal Court;
  • You did not go to state prison for the charge;
  • You have completed probation or obtained early termination of probation;
  • You have satisfied all sentence requirements;
  • You are not charged with another criminal offense;
  • You are not serving another sentence;
  • The charge you are seeking to expunge must be either an infraction, misdemeanor or a felony that could have been charged as a misdemeanor;
  • You were only sentenced to county jail time, probation, a fine, or a combination of the three.
***Note that there are exceptions to the above eligibility giving Judges some discretion to grant expungement even if not all the requirements are satisfied, even though this is rare. Also, there are numerous charges that CANNOT be expunged.[3]

What Is the First Step I Take If I Am Interested In Expunging My Record?

In order to get a conviction expunged, you will need to know important information about each one of your convictions[4]. A lawyer can help get all of this information and walk you through the expungement process. Remember that it is advisable to have an attorney assist you in not only obtaining the documentation, but with filling out the proper forms, and ultimately arguing on your behalf if there is a hearing scheduled on the expungement matter.

You will need the following information about each one of your convictions:

  • What is the case number or docket number of the case with the charges you want expunged and dismissed?
  • What was the date of your conviction (when you entered the plea or were given a guilty verdict)?
  • What is the code name and section number you were convicted of violating?
  • Was there a verdict or did you enter a plea (if it was a plea was it a guilty plea or a plea of no contest).
  • Were you ordered to serve any probation? And how long?
  • Were you ordered to pay fines, restitution, or reimbursement?
Keep in mind you need this information for each one of your convictions because you can only expunge and dismiss one conviction at a time.

Additionally, you need to get a copy of your criminal record from the Court where you were convicted or the California State Department of Justice Criminal Record Review Unit. There may be a fee associated with obtaining a copy of your own record.

The Expungement Process

The first recommendation when filing for expungement would be to consult with an attorney.

You will have to take the following steps in the filing process:

    1. Complete the Petition for Dismissal for EACH conviction (if currently on probation you will have to file that one first).[5]

    2. File the petition(s) with the clerk of the superior court for the county where you were convicted.

    3. You may have to submit extra copies of the petition and serve them on the district attorney and the probation department depending on the rules of the court (remember to do this if required).

    4. The petitions will have to be served by mail or in-hand with proof of service.

    5. Be sure to include any supporting materials (transcripts, letters of support, school diplomas.

    6. At the time of filing the clerk will set a hearing date if necessary.

    7. If a hearing date is set, make sure you attend (with an attorney if possible).

    8. Prepare and bring an order for dismissal if you are required to attend a hearing so that if the expungement and dismissal are allowed the judge can sign off on the order[6].
Can My Expungement and Dismissal be Reversed?

Your expunged record and dismissal can still be used against you to enhance a punishment in future cases. Additionally, if the offense that was expunged and dismissed is repeated, there is the possibility that the expungement will be reversed and restored to the record.

What Do I Do if the Expungement is Denied?

You may be able to contact the Court and find out why the petition was denied and what you can do to fix the problem and re-file the petition.

[1] There are certain jobs and agencies that can take into account your expunged charges and it may impact your potential of employment with these jobs or agencies.
[2] California Penal Code § 1203.4 is used to expunge cases where probation was part of the sentence; California Penal Code § 1203.4a is used to expunge cases where there is no probation; and California Penal Code § 17 is used to reduce a felony conviction to a misdemeanor that can then be expunged and dismissed (felony charges that qualify under § 17 are often referred to as "wobblers" because they can be charged as either misdemeanors or felonies).
[3] These charges include, but are not limited to, any misdemeanor within the provisions of Vehicle Code § 42002.1; any infraction under Vehicle Code § 42001; any violation of Penal Code § 286(c), 288, 288.5, 288a(c), or 289(i); or a felony under Penal Code § 261.5(d).
[4] A step-by-step guide to determine what you need to do to clean your record can be found here:
[5] The petition for dismissal can be found at:
[6] An Order for Dismissal can be found at:

You can reach an attorney at Theta Law Firm by calling us or sending us an email at Theta Law Firm can represent clients all across the State of California, including in any of the following counties: Alameda | Alpine | Amador | Butte | Calaveras | Colusa | Contra Costa | Del Norte | El Dorado | Fresno | Glenn | Humboldt | Imperial | Inyo | Kern | Kings | Lake | Lassen | Los Angeles | Madera | Marin | Mariposa | Mendocino | Merced | Modoc | Mono | Monterey | Napa | Nevada | Orange | Placer | Plumas | Riverside | Sacramento | San Benito | San Bernardino | San Diego | San Francisco | San Joaquin | San Luis Obispo | San Mateo | Santa Barbara | Santa Clara | Santa Cruz | Shasta | Sierra | Siskiyou | Solano | Sonoma | Stanislaus | Sutter | Tehama | Trinity | Tulare | Tuolumne | Ventura | Yolo | Yuba