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Expungements - Penal Code Section 1203.4

When your life's problems pass and you start to move on, your criminal record can unfortunately interfere in a number of different ways. Though it may seem offsetting, a criminal record is a public record. Any member of the general public can walk into the courthouse that held your criminal proceedings and see your case file. You do not, and will not, have any control to stop someone from doing this. You do, however, have the option of expungement (if you so qualify). The expungement process cannot erase a criminal conviction, but it can help provide some relief to your benefit.

Expungement is the process of dismissing the conviction against you, requiring three legal steps to be taken within a very short hearing. First, you withdraw your plea of guilty (or, if you were found guilty at trial, the judge sets aside your guilty verdict). Second, you enter a plea of not guilty. And third, the court dismisses the accusations against you. It certainly sounds great, but keep in mind that your criminal case and the expungments are still public record. Your case can still be found by anyone. So, if that is the case, what does this "expunge" really mean for you?

For starters, it gives you the legal right to say, “My conviction was dismissed.” The word “dismissed” is a legal term with a very specific meaning. It DOES NOT MEAN that your conviction is erased (a common misunderstanding). The entire time line is still there in your court file: you were charged, prosecuted, convicted, and, later, had your conviction dismissed. "Dismissed” does not mean that you can claim you were never convicted. This distinction, however slight it might be, is very important, especially when qualifying for a job.?

Job applications quite frequently ask about your criminal background. For example, let's pretend you have an expunged felony conviction. The questions posed typically vary from job to job. One type of job application might ask, “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” An expungement does not give you the right to answer “no” to this question. In this case, you must answer "yes" because, at some time in the past year, you were convicted of a felony; it was only later that this felony was expunged.

However, if the application asks, “Are you convicted of a felony?” your expungement gives you the legal right to answer “No.” This is true because the question “Are you convicted of a felony?” asks about your present status and not your past. The expunged felony is a dismissed conviction and, therefore, you are not presently convicted of that felony.

If such is the case, you should pay very close attention to the questions asked of you on job applications. If you are not sure about how to answer, immediately consult your attorney. If you are serious about getting the job, do not lie or place unsure information onto the application. You may think that the company will not take the time to actually investigate whether you are telling the truth, but this can easily come back to haunt you. We have seen people who have done this, received a job offer and started working, only to be fired shortly thereafter because the employer discovered that they lied! The financial disaster these people brought on themselves by not telling the truth was devastating. Don’t make this same mistake.

Expungements also offer several other forms of relief that may or may not be important to you. Certain convictions deny you your right to vote. However, an expungement can restore that. An expungment can also give you immunity impeachment in subsequent actions. But always keep in mind that an expungement cannot offer some of the forms of relief you may desire. For example, it will not relieve you of a duty to register as a sex offender, nor will it reinstate your right to own or posses a firearm. Furthermore, if you are later prosecuted on in a new case, a prior felony conviction can still be pled and proved, even for three strikes purposes, regardless of whether that conviction was expunged.

Many of you may be reading this article in jail with charges still pending. Keep this information in mind, because if (and when) you are getting ready to plea or be sentenced, it could very well help you obtain benefits you might otherwise think were impossible.