As a member of U.S. society, it is likely that you have a record: whether from your birth or a marriage or some other civil situation, there is probably some government documentation that shows when a specific event occurred. Importantly, though, you only have a criminal record if you have, at some point in your life, been arrested, charged, or convicted of a crime.
These government documents automatically enter the public record, so that any member of the public may see certain details pertaining to certain life events, including civil and criminal cases. People with criminal records may quickly realize how any event on your criminal record, as simple as an unwarranted arrest, can have a severe and negative impact.
Luckily, the State of California offers several ways to clear your record. In fact, California is one of the friendliest states to people looking to clear their records. Record clearing can be a complicated or somewhat straightforward process, all based on what’s on your record and what you are looking to accomplish through your record clearing.
Record Expungement Attorney specializes in all types of record clearing in California. We provide this overview of record clearing as information to see if record clearing may be an option for you – whether in a civil or criminal case. This article in informational in nature and is not intended as legal counsel. Only a legal professional with knowledge of your record and situation can provide such advice.
WHAT DOES RECORD CLEARING MEAN?
Record clearing is a catch-all term that refers to the legal processes for removing or dismissing particular pieces of your record. Your record can generally refer to two types of information:
- Recordings of civil procedures or cases
- Recordings or criminal cases
Many important life milestones are marked by civil documents: the birth of a baby, adopting a child, getting married, getting divorced. Other common civil cases can involve bankruptcy wherein you may want to protect your privacy, or cases where you want or need to protect sensitive industry or state information. You may even be involved in a civil case that isn’t of your choosing, such as someone suing you or you taking part in a civil case as a victim of a civil crime or dispute.
Records, or documentation, of all of these crimes are automatically entered into the public record, which means any person can look these files up. As most records exist in online databases, it is even easier for someone to look up information about a civil case in which you were involved. This information is generally separate from a criminal background record.
When we talk about record clearing, most people are referring to a criminal record of some sort. Your criminal record is a document that begins the moment you are arrested for the first time, with details such as your picture and fingerprints, dates, times, and information about the arrest, and the reason for it – such as whether you are charged with a crime or suspected of a certain crime. An arrest can result in a number of situations, including no charge, a dismissed case, a case that is acquitted, or a case that results in a conviction for the crime (you are determined to be guilty of the crime).
The record may include crimes related to misdemeanors or felonies, or even certain simple infractions. Traffic fines that you’ve paid or otherwise taken care of are not a part of your criminal record. Certain crimes are not eligible for record clearing, particularly crimes involving sex acts or pornography with children.
Your record continues to accumulate for each additional arrest, charge, acquittal, conviction, or other related actions. For some people, your life’s criminal record may include nothing, or a simple arrest that resulted in no charges against you. More severe records can have several arrests and crime convictions.
Unlike some less severe crimes that may automatically clear from your record after seven or 10 years, your criminal record stays with you for life. No crimes are automatically cleared from your record.
The only exception to how long your record stays with you is in regards to juvenile criminal records. If you have a criminal record from before you turned 18, you can petition the court to seal these records as of your 18th birthday, with automatic destruction of records five years later. If you do not clear your juvenile record, it will be destroyed 20 years later, when you turn 38 years old.
BENEFITS OF RECORD CLEARING
Both civil and criminal case records are part of the public record, which means any community member can seek out certain information about any case you are involved in. Most people who opt to clear their records do so in order to improve their chances for certain opportunities.
Criminal background records in particular can have a significant negative impact on things like obtaining or maintaining gainful employment, being approved for a house or apartment, or securing a bank loan or mortgage. In these situations, it is common for the company or agency to perform a criminal background check. They often automatically turn down an applicant who has a mark on his or her criminal record, typically without giving the person a chance to explain.
You may also seek record clearing in order to obtain some rights that were revoked upon a crime conviction. For instance, if you’ve been convicted of a felony crime, you likely lost your right to vote and your right to bear arms (possess and use legal firearms). Certain kinds of record clearing can help restore these rights.
WHY DO I NEED TO CLEAR MY RECORD?
You do not need to clear your record and it is never a mandatory situation. Any decision you make towards clearing your record is optional, though it does require work on your part, as you need to petition the courts for each of the various record clearings.
Importantly, each incident on your record generally requires a separate record clearing action. If you have three separate incidents on your criminal record, you would need to petition the court three separate times, one record clearing action per incident. Depending on your situation, you may wish to seek more than one record clearing court action per incident, such as an expungement and a record seal, as they have different purposes and outcomes.
Record sealing is the most common type of clearing your record. It is both the simplest version of record clearing and the most widely applicable. When a court orders a specific record to be sealed, that record (all or part of it, as determined by your petition and the court’s decision) is no longer available to the public, including current and potential employers, people or companies who must check your credit (housing applications, car loans, mortgage applications, etc.), and even private investigators.
Any record that is part of the public record may be eligible for record sealing (as opposed to expungement, which is specific to convictions). This means that both civil and criminal cases can be sealed and for any number of reasons:
- Protecting your privacy, perhaps in a divorce or a bankruptcy
- Protecting the privacy of others, perhaps in a case of adoption, particularly closed adoptions
- Protecting the privacy of a company or state agency, such as in industries where innovations are competitive advantages and intellectual property
Record sealing does not mean that a decision was not made regarding the case or that your conviction was erased or does not otherwise exist. In record sealing, it simply means that members of the public cannot view the records related to the case.
EXPUNGEMENT OR DISMISSAL
Often used in similar ways as sealing a record, an expungement (commonly known as a dismissal) is actually very different.
An expungement applies only to post-conviction situations. That means it is specific to crimes wherein you were found guilty of the crime. In the public record, if someone looked up your case number, they would see a guilty verdict of your crime. But if you successfully petition the court for an expungement, the court has decided to “set aside” or dismiss your conviction. The public record now shows that the decision related to the case is dismissed, so no one can know whether you were determined to be guilty of the crime. The record, however, does remain as part of the public record.
In order to be eligible for an expungement, you typically have to complete the full sentencing associated with your conviction, which may include paying fines, serving time in a county jail, and completing a probation program. Some crimes are not eligible for expungement, particularly those that required you serve time in a state prison (not a county jail).
An expungement does not mean that your conviction was erased, even if it appears that way to the general public. For instance, if this conviction was your first and you completed the sentencing, but you are later convicted of a second crime, that first conviction can inform the court to strengthen your punishment, even though the first conviction was dismissed.
For many crime convictions, the expungement process is the first step towards additional record clearing opportunities, all subject to court petition. Though an expungement is specific to criminal convictions, you may be able to obtain a record seal as well: whether as an intentional action to remove your record from the public view or as a back-up if the court does not approve your request for expungement at all.
CERTIFICATE OF REHABILITATION
After you have completed the full terms of your expungement, including a mandatory minimum waiting period, you may be able to obtain a Certificate of Rehabilitation. This is a formal declaration of the court that says you have been rehabilitated of the conviction in question. Commonly known as a COR, this certificate stays on your record and can help people who search your criminal record to see that you have been rehabbed and are unlikely to be a liability in employment, housing, financial, and other opportunities.
A COR can also restore certain rights, such as your right to vote or possess a firearm, that perhaps had not previously been reinstated.
When a court grants a COR, you are automatically recommended for a governor’s pardon as well.
Though a pardon is the ultimate method of and final step to clearing your record, a governor’s pardon is exceedingly difficult to obtain. In most states, a governor may grant only a few dozen pardons over the course of his or her term.
The pardon formally means that the records now reflect that the crime never happened. A pardon is often sought particularly in cases that were highly publicized or when the defendant has maintained, or is able to prove, his or her innocence. It is particularly newsworthy when a governor pardons people who are awaiting a death sentence, as has happened just a few times in U.S. history.
HOW TO CLEAR YOUR RECORD
Clearing your record is a legal process that requires paperwork and specific legal information regarding your case. It is typically best to work with a lawyer, to ensure you are choosing the right record clearing method for your scenario. When seeking a lawyer, you have two options: paying and hiring a private lawyer, which can be cost prohibitive to some people. The other option is to work with the public defender in the county where you reside or were convicted, assuming you worked with one during your criminal case. The public defender is an attorney who is available to represent people who are unable to afford to hire their own attorney and legal team.
Each county in California has a public defender. To find your public defender in your California county, click here.
Record Expungement Attorney is based in Riverside, California. We have worked with numerous clients across Riverside and San Bernardino Counties to clear their records, and we are ready to help you with your situation. Get in touch with our experienced legal team at Record Expungement Attorney by calling 951-916-9248 today!