Across the United States, over 70 million individuals have some kind of a criminal history. That makes millions in California potentially subject to dozens of state and federal regulations and statutes that limit their rights, from employment and housing to voting or maintaining a driver’s license or a firearm.

Some restrictions are clearly reasonable, but others are arbitrary and entirely unrelated to the crime or the conviction. If you are convicted of a misdemeanor charge such as assault, theft, or driving under the influence, it is a conviction that possibly could stay on your criminal record for the rest of your life.

Even a conviction for a misdemeanor in this state may be enough to keep you from getting a better job or obtaining a professional license. With the internet, almost anyone can quickly and inexpensively run a criminal background check on almost anyone else. If you are being rejected by employers or turned away when you seek housing, it might be because of something in your criminal history.

If you hold a professional license, a criminal conviction usually means the suspension or revocation of that license, and a conviction also impacts your credit and your ability to borrow. However, in California, if you meet certain requirements, most misdemeanors and even some felonies can be expunged – that is, eliminated – from your criminal record with the help of an experienced Orange County criminal defense attorney.

WHAT CAN AN EXPUNGEMENT DO FOR YOU?

A California criminal conviction can be a barrier to professional, educational, and personal goals in your life. An expungement of that conviction can open many of the doors that would otherwise remain closed. If you need to have a criminal conviction expunged from your record, it can often be done with the help of experienced defense attorney. Expungement seals your criminal record permanently from landlords, employers, creditors, licensing boards, or anyone else looking into your life.

Your lawyer will examine your criminal record, and if you qualify for expungement, your lawyer will explain the expungement process to you and begin that process on your behalf. In some cases, a felony conviction will first have to be reduced to a misdemeanor and then expunged.

Expunging a criminal conviction in California takes some time and effort, but you should not let something from years ago needlessly prevent you from finding work or needlessly continue to impair your future.

Some convictions in California, however, simply do not qualify for expungement. If you were sentenced to time in a California state prison after a criminal conviction, that conviction cannot be expunged, although you may qualify instead for a Certificate of Rehabilitation. A Certificate of Rehabilitation is a California court order which declares that someone convicted of a felony – or a misdemeanor sex charge – has been rehabilitated.

It restores political and civil rights to ex-convicts who have demonstrated rehabilitation. When a judge approves a Certificate of Rehabilitation, it is sent to the Governor’s Office and functions as a request for a pardon.

Expungement lets you tell employers that you were not convicted of a crime. California law forbids an employer from using an expunged conviction against you. However, if you are seeking to expunge a conviction in this state, you should have a knowledgeable defense attorney’s help from the beginning. The paperwork is extensive, and it must be accurate and complete.

Any mistakes or misunderstandings could delay the process or even derail your effort to have your conviction expunged, but your attorney can ensure that there are no errors in the paperwork and no unnecessary delays in the process.

EXACTLY HOW DOES THE EXPUNGEMENT PROCESS WORK?

For most misdemeanor convictions in California, if you complete the terms of probation successfully, your record can probably be expunged. If your plea was guilty or no contest, for most misdemeanor convictions, you can seek expungement beginning three years from the date the plea was entered.

Successfully completing probation is required, but courts will sometimes approve expungements in cases where probation was violated but subsequently successfully completed.

The California Labor Code forbids employers in California from asking about any arrest that was not followed by a conviction. And sometimes after an arrest in California, a charge is never filed or the charge is dropped before a trial begins.

If you have an arrest on your record but no charge was filed and/or you were not convicted, you can probably have the record of that arrest sealed and destroyed. The booking photos, police reports, and other records of the arrest do not disappear automatically, but like the expungement process, you must have an attorney’s help.

If you were placed in custody but no charge was brought against you, first you must submit a request to the law enforcement agency that arrested you. If that police agency is persuaded of your innocence in the incident, it will seal the arrest record and destroy it after three years. I

f your request is rejected, or if no answer is forthcoming from the police agency after sixty days, an Orange County criminal defense attorney can file a “motion for a finding of factual innocence and destruction of arrest records” with the court on your behalf.

WHAT IS A FINDING OF FACTUAL INNOCENCE?

A finding of factual innocence is preferable to a simple dismissal of charges because it genuinely and fully destroys any evidence that any arrest was made. That is extremely helpful if you are in education, law, medicine, law enforcement, or many other professions.

A finding of factual innocence is also helpful if the arrest was related to an allegation of domestic violence, as a domestic violence arrest in California may become a barrier to buying a firearm or acquiring a professional license.

Juvenile records in California are not sealed automatically when someone turns 18 years old, although at that time you may request to have juvenile records sealed by petitioning the juvenile court with your attorney’s help. Once juvenile records are sealed in this state, no one may access them, and after five years they are destroyed.

In Southern California, if you need to have a conviction expunged or an arrest record sealed and destroyed, have an experienced California defense attorney draft and argue the motion on your behalf.