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Benefits & Limitations of Expungement in California | Record Expungement Attorney

Benefits & Limitations of Expungement

We at Record Expungement Attorney do not try to hide from our clients the drawbacks, or limitations, of expungement or of other record clearing actions under California law.

While we are quick to point out to you the benefits and can guide you through the process step by step, there's no doubt that record clearing doesn't "do everything."

It's important for you to understand exactly what it does and does not do going into it so you won't have a false expectation that's just going to get dashed to pieces. We give you the true facts on what to expect so you can pursue the real benefits and be satisfied with the results!

For more information, or for a free no obligation consultation, contact us anytime 24/7 by calling 619-432-7544.

Benefits & Limitations of Expungement

A California expungement can turn a conviction record into a dismissal record. That makes it look a lot better to potential employers and others who might run a background check on you.

Expungement also allows you to legally say "no" if asked if you were ever convicted of the expunged offense. And it improves you chances of getting approved for a state-issued professional license or membership in a professional organization.

Finally, expungement will allow you to serve as a credible witness in a court case. But, if you are the one on trial, your credibility can still be impugned based on the past, now-expunged offense.

However, there are many things expungements can't accomplish, which people sometimes think they will.

Not a Record Erasure

Some falsely think that expunging a conviction simply erases the criminal record. This is not true. Under PC 1203.4, you can get a conviction changed to a dismissal on your police record, but not eradicated. Plus, those doing a background check may still see that the dismissal was a PC 1203.4 type dismissal and thus know that you had a conviction that was expunged.

It's true that some background checks (most, in fact, run by employers) won't show that you got an expungement. And it's true that employers are not legally allowed to discriminated against you based on an expunged offense. But it's not true that no background check will ever reveal you had a conviction expunged.

Exceptions for Certain Applications

On most job applications, you don't have to reveal you had a conviction and expungement. But if applying for a law enforcement job, a state lotto worker job, or any public official position, you do. It might not prevent your application being accepted, but you have to reveal it - and if you don't, there are ways that such employers can find out.

Also, you must reveal the expunged conviction if applying for most state of California professional licenses. Again, that doesn't mean don't bother applying. Your chances of approval are higher after expungement than before. But state licensing boards are going to know about the expungement.

Expunged Convictions Still Priors

A PC 1203.4 expungement does not cancel the function of the expunged offense as a prior in any future conviction. That means that it can increase your sentence on the new offense if convicted. And they still count as a "strike" under California's Three Strike Law - IF they did before the expungement.

Does Not Restore Firearm Rights

Under PC 29800, convicted felons, and those convicted of some misdemeanors as well, cannot legally own, possess, or carry a gun in California. This stipulation is NOT canceled when a conviction is expunged. While there may be other ways to restore lost gun rights, expungement is not going to do it.

Does Not Cancel Sex Offender Registration

If you are required to register with the state as a sex offender under PC 290 for a past sex crime conviction, don't expect expungement to remove that burden. It won't. In some cases, a certificate of rehabilitation or a governor's pardon can cancel the obligations of PC 290, but never expungement.

Not a Guarantee You Won't Be Deported

An expungement does not, in itself, prevent negative immigration consequences like deportation or denial of reentry or denial of a green card or citizenship. Federal immigration courts only consider whether a conviction was valid to begin with rather than if it ended up getting expunged. But, if a felony was reduced to a misdemeanor during the expungement process, that could help reduce or avert any immigration repercussions.

Thus, as you can see, expungement has many benefits but also many limitations. Whether or not it's worth pursuing expungement depends on what you're trying to accomplish. For some, just the personal satisfaction of putting the past behind them and the benefit of likely landing a better job, getting approved for college or grad school enrollment, or getting approved for a desirable apartment lease is sufficient. In some other situations, however, expungement may help only partially or not at all. It all depends.

Sentence Reduction Benefits & Limitations

Under Prop 64, Prop 47, and other California laws, it's possible to get a felony conviction reduced to a misdemeanor. This may be done as part of the expungement process or simply for its own sake.

The benefit is that a felon has a much harder time finding gainful employment than does someone with only a misdemeanor on his/her record. Plus, the sentence reduction may allow you to regain lost gun rights - but here's a limitation again: for the more serious felony types, you normally can't regain lost gun rights.

Typically, certain theft crimes, drug possession crimes, marijuana offenses, and various wobbler offenses that could have been charged as either misdemeanor or felony, can be reduced. Or, if you were convicted of a felony before Realignment that today would be a misdemeanor or at least might be a misdemeanor, you may be able to qualify for sentence reduction.

But not all offenses qualify, and it doesn't erase the conviction, and it may not restore gun rights. So there are definite limitations to sentence reductions.

Record Sealing Benefits & Limitations

The limitations on arrest record sealing are less severe than for expungement, but at the same time, prosecutors will often fight a petition for record sealing much more fiercely. Plus, it's harder to qualify for record sealing in many instances - though of course there are many who can qualify and will benefit greatly.

However, there are a few possible drawback even to record sealing. First, you have wait 3 years before the sealed records are finally destroyed. During that time, there are certain agencies that can still access your record - such as prosecutors in some cases, and law enforcement or government agencies.

Plus, it's possible your record would appear in some background searches as "sealed." That could raise suspicions with some employees who might assume the worst. But other employees wouldn't so assume or wouldn't even know your record had been sealed. Many suggest to keep a certified copy of the court docket showing your charge so after sealing the arrest record, you can show it to anyone who finds out your record was sealed - otherwise, they might assume it was a far worse offense than it was.

Benefits & Limitations of a Certificate of Rehabilitation

Oftentimes, if you spent time in state prison and thus cannot get an expungement, the best available way to clean up your record is through a certificate of rehabilitation. 

This is a court ordered, official document stating that, in the opinion of the court, you have shown convincing evidence of having been truly rehabilitated from your past criminal ways. Employers can't legally discriminate against someone with a certificate of rehabilitation, and as soon as you get one, you automatically apply for a governor's pardon.

But there are certainly some drawbacks as well. Firstly, you have to wait 7 to 10 years after finishing your sentence, inclusive of probation, to even apply. Second, very few people get a governor's pardon, even if they get a certificate of rehabilitation.

Now, a certificate of rehabilitation legally prevents a state licensing board from denying you a license based on convictions for offenses from which you've been rehabilitated. But it cannot force a board to give you a license, and it might lower your chances somewhat compared to if you'd never been convicted at all. And that same principle holds true with applications for employment, college enrollment, or anything else.

A certificate of rehabilitation does not seal, destroy, nor clear or adjust your criminal record. It simply adds a statement from a court saying you have changed your ways. In some cases, it relieves you of the duty to register as a sex offender, but not always. It does not, like expungement, allow you to say "no" on a job application if asked if you were ever convicted of an offense. And it does not prevent past convictions from acting as priors if you are convicted of a new crime.

Benefits & Limitations of a Governor's Pardon

In California, as in other US states, the governor is empowered with the constitutional ability to pardon those convicted of past criminal offenses. However, he rarely exercises this power, and in California, pardons are granted based on "merit" rather than for some other reason. Thus, you have to "earn" a pardon, in a sense - or perhaps we should say, "show yourself worthy of" a pardon.

But there are limitations on what a pardon can do, even if you get one. They relieve you of many, but not all, of the penalties and hindrances caused by a criminal conviction. A certificate of rehabilitation or a certificate of factual innocence often helps you get a pardon, but the pardon basically just affirms you have been rehabilitated. It's like a doubling-up on a certificate of rehabilitation.

A pardon may or may not restore your gun ownership rights, cancel the duty to register as a sex offender, allow you to serve on a jury, help you get a state professional license, or prevent deportation or other negative immigration consequences. The exact benefits can be limited based on the nature of the underlying offense(s) from which you are being pardoned.

Note that you don't need a pardon to regain the right to vote because you automatically regain that right as soon as your felony criminal sentence has been fully completed.

But even in cases where all of the other handicaps caused by a felony conviction, including gun rights, are restored by a pardon, a governor's pardon still does not change a police record nor seal it. Nor does it change any convictions to dismissals as in expungement.

Under California's "ban the box" law, which just passed in 2018, employers can't ask about convictions that have been pardoned until he/she has made a conditional offer of employment. And then, the offer cannot be rescinded based on the pardoned offense. However, employers often are able to learn about a criminal record anyway through a simple background check. Remember that a pardon won't change that record.

Here are a few other limitations of a governor's pardon in California:

  • A full, unconditional pardon will restore all gun rights, but not all pardons are that way. California normally excludes certain felons from restoration of gun rights - in fact, the governor is banned from restoring gun rights to those convicted of felonies involving use of a dangerous weapon.
  • In California, the state allows you your gun rights back after 10 years for misdemeanor level domestic violence convictions. But federal law prohibits this unless you get a Presidential pardon, not just a Governor of California pardon. 
  • A pardon does not prevent a criminal conviction from coming up as a prior if you are convicted of a new offense in the future. Nor does it prevent a pardoned offense from being used to question your credibility as witness in a case where you are the defendant.

Contact Us Today For Help With All Record Clearing Services!

Record Expungement Attorney can assist you with expungement of a past conviction, arrest record sealing, and all other record clearing related legal actions available under California law.

We do not try to hide the drawbacks or limitations of these processes, but we certainly wouldn't want you to overlook the benefits either and miss out on putting the past behind you.

To learn more, feel free to contact our San Diego Record Expungement Attorney 24/7/365 by calling 619-432-7544 for a free legal consultation!