This is an article I wrote for this month’s La Quinta Gem newspaper:
Everybody makes mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes result in a criminal record. This record can follow a person for years, and with technology making this information so readily available, it can have the effect of keeping people from employment or other programs. Many people lose hope that they will ever be able to put their mistakes behind them, but California law provides for relief for many to clean up their record via the expungement process.
Expungement is a process whereby a person who was convicted of an infraction, misdemeanor, or felony, who received a probationary sentence, can request that the court “expunge” their record. When the court expunges a criminal record, the court will re-open the case, set aside the conviction, and dismiss the case. This allows an individual to tell employers and others inquiring that they have never been convicted of a crime. (Note: Convictions may still need to be disclosed to licensing or governmental agencies. If you have a question about whether you need to disclose your conviction, always consult an attorney.)
To be eligible for an expungement for a crime committed in California, there are certain minimal requirements:
The individual must have been convicted in a California State Court, as opposed to Federal Court;
The individual must not have gone to state prison, and must have received probation or a “terminal disposition” as a sentence;
The individual must have successfully completed probation, which includes paying all fines and/or restitution, completing community service or required jail time, etc. In the case of a terminal disposition, the individual must wait for one year after sentencing to apply for expungement; and
The individual must not have admitted or been convicted of any violation of probation.
If you meet these requirements, you are eligible to have your case expunged as a matter of law. This means that the judge must expunge your record upon request.
There is still hope for an expungement, however, if you violated probation, but the judge is no longer obligated to grant the expungement. Instead, upon filing a motion for expungement, the judge will review certain factors, such as the seriousness of the underlying charge, the seriousness of the violation, the individual’s contributions to the community, criminal history, behavior while on probation, future prospects, and any other factors the judge feels are important, and will decide whether to grant the expungement.
Even if an individual is still on probation, but their probation and/or criminal record is keeping them from getting a job or applying to scholastic programs, etc., a judge has the power to terminate probation early and expunge a criminal record if all of the aforementioned qualifications are met. If an individual requests early termination of probation, they usually must show positive changes in their life and behavior since the conviction. They generally must also show that they have attempted to make positive changes in employment or education, and have been prevented from doing so as a direct result of the conviction and/or current probationary status.
Anybody who is facing criminal charges or who has been convicted of a crime needs to be aware of this procedure so that a past mistake doesn’t preclude a successful future. If you are charged with a crime or have a prior conviction, it is very important to consult an attorney about this process to protect your future.
Forest Wilkerson is a criminal defense attorney located in Old Town La Quinta, and was recently honored as one of the top attorneys in the Coachella Valley by Palm Springs Life magazine. She handles felony and misdemeanor cases, and will take cases from pre-arrest through appeal. For more information call her at 760-777-4322 or visit her website at www.forestwilkersonlaw.com.