How to Expunge a Criminal Record in Los Angeles

You've cleaned up your act. You're off probation, stopped hanging out with the "wrong crowd," and your back in school. Now, the only thing lingering over you is your criminal record. You've changed and you want the world to know it. What can you do?

If you were convicted of a crime in Los Angeles, under certain circumstances you can petition the court for an expungement of your record under California Penal Code section 1203.4. Here at FindLaw we've compiled some information that may assist you.

An Important Point about Expungement in California

The word "expungement" is a bit misleading. "Dismissal" is a better term to describe what will happen if the court grants your petition under P.C. 1203.4. Why? An expungement implies that a record of your criminal conviction is completely erased. That won't happen in California. Rather, your conviction record will be updated to reflect that the guilty plea was withdrawn, a "not guilty" plea was entered in its place, probation was terminated, and the case has been "dismissed."

If someone does a background check on you, even after a dismissal, they still may see that a conviction took place. But they will also see that it was later successfully dismissed.

What are the benefits of a dismissal?

There are numerous benefits to getting your conviction dismissed. When applying for a job in the private sector, you can lawfully answer "no" if asked whether you've has been convicted of a crime. However, to be safe you may wish to answer "Yes - Conviction Dismissed." If you are applying for a state license such as a contractor's or real estate license, you still have to disclose it. Basically, you are allowed to get a government license, but you are obliged to provide information about your conviction and the eventual "expungement" while applying for it.

Keep in mind that if you are arrested and or charged with a new crime, the "expunged" convictions can be used against you in sentencing. In addition, on all government forms, you must reveal (upon request) your expunged criminal convictions, and you will still not be able to possess a firearm. Your criminal history will still show your conviction even after your records are expunged, which will be open to the FBI and other governmental bodies.

Can all California convictions be set aside?

No, but most can. Here's how you wouldn't be eligible:

What do I need to do first?

First, you must have completed all the terms and conditions of your probation. That means you can't be on probation in this case or any other. Also, make sure you've completed any alcohol or substance abuse programs, and any anger management classes. You must have paid all fines, fees, and any restitution payments ordered by the court. If you were denied probation, you can still obtain a dismissal, but you still can't be on probation or serving a sentence for any other case, plus you'll have to wait a year after your conviction before applying.

Do I need to fill out any paperwork?

Yes, you'll file a Petition for Dismissal (PDF) in the county where you were convicted. In the Los Angeles area, it's be with the Clerk of the Court for Los Angeles County. You will receive a hearing date where the judge will consider whether to grant your petition.

If you need assistance with "expunging" your criminal record in Los Angeles, contact a criminal attorney, the public defender, or an L.A.-area legal aid organization.

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