Simply put, California law allows under certain circumstances where a conviction did not result in prison time to reopen the case, withdraw the guilty plea, and the case to be dismissed. This process is commonly known as an “Expungement”. The beauty of this process is that it gives you the opportunity to state that you have never been convicted of the case that was expunged. The case was reopened and dismissed!
California criminal offenses are defined by the type of punishment that can be imposed. Misdemeanors are offenses that are punishable by a fine, and/or up to one year in county jail. Felonies are punishable by a fine, and by custody in state prison. Wobblers are cases that can be punished by either up to one year in county jail, or by imprisonment in state prison.
The most common type of expungement relief available in California is authorized by California Penal Code Section 1203.4.This section provides, in pertinent part, that:
In any case in which a defendant has fulfilled the conditions of probation for the entire period of probation, or has been discharged prior to the termination of the period of probation, or in any other case in which a court, in its discretion and the interests of justice, determines that a defendant should be granted the relief available under this section, the defendant shall, at any time after the termination of the period of probation, if he or she is not then serving a sentence for any new offense, on probation for any offense, or charged with the commission of any offense, be permitted by the court to withdraw his or her plea of guilty or plea of nolo contendere and enter a plea of not guilty; or, if he or she has been convicted after a plea of not guilty, the court shall set aside the verdict of guilty; and, in either case, the court shall thereupon dismiss the accusations or information against the defendant and except as noted below, he or she shall thereafter be released from all penalties and disabilities resulting from the offense of which he or she has been convicted.
The order shall state, and the probationer shall be informed, that the order does not relieve him or her of the obligation to disclose the conviction in response to any direct question contained in any questionnaire or application for public office, for licensure by any state or local agency, or for contracting with the California State Lottery.
What happens when relief is granted?
Technically, the expungement under 1203.4 is not an eraser of one’s criminal record. What is really happening is set out in the statute: the plea of guilty or no contest is being withdrawn and a plea of not guilty is being entered, or, if there was a trial, the verdict of guilty is being set aside. In either case, the court is thereafter dismissing the charging document.
As noted in the statute, the probationer is, thereafter, “released from all penalties and disabilities resulting from the offense of which he or she has been convicted,” with certain exceptions.
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