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CA Expungement Terms and Law

What is an Expungement in California?


A California criminal expungement is a legal process that petitions the Court to review a conviction to determine:If probation was successfully completed probation, or, if no probation was granted, a year has passed since the conviction.  All fines, restitution and reimbursement ordered by the court must be paid; the petitioner cannot be on probation for another offense; or have any new or pending cases. 

If these conditions are met the Court then allows the petitioner to withdraw their plea or finding of guilt, enters a "not guilty" plea, and orders the case dismissed. You will receive a copy of the Court Order when your case is complete. 

Common Terms:
  • Background check – a procedure now almost universally in place wherein employers, schools, and landlords check for criminal history for applicants. Since about 1990 almost all criminal convictions are available electronically and are very easily discovered in a background check.

  • Certificate of Rehabilitation-an evidentiary finding by a court that an individual with a felony conviction (often one with a state prison sentence) has been rehabilitated. This certificate is then forwarded to the governor of California for consideration of a governor's pardon. We no longer practice in the area of certificates of rehabilitation.

  • Cleaning a Record – another term used interchangeably with expungement or clearing a record, meaning essentially the same

  • Clearing a Record – an alternative definition for expungement, commonly used in Santa Clara County and some others

  • Court Appearance – many expungements occur in open court where it appearance by the attorney and the prosecutor is necessary in front of the judge. We make all court appearances for clients, and in about 95% of the cases we handle the client never needs to appear in court.

  • Court Order-the document showing that an expungement has been completed; this can be either a signed order (commonly judicial Council form 181) or a docket showing that the case has been set aside and dismissed by court order. All of our clients receive official court documentation proving that the expungement has occurred

  • Criminal Record – court and governmental databases such as the California Department of Justice and FBI that maintain records of criminal offenses. These records are maintained pretty much indefinitely and until an expungement occurs, a record check will continue to return a criminal conviction for decades.

  • Diversion-also called "1000 PC" this is a procedure for first offenders in drug cases to have criminal proceedings suspended, be sent to a counseling or training program, and after a period of time having the case dismissed without conviction. This is an excellent program, but unfortunately the record of the case is still public and must be sealed under a petition for sealing pursuant to Penal Code section 851.09. See more information HERE

  • Docket – the official printed or electronic record of a criminal case containing all court dates and appearances as well as a record of what occurred during those court dates.

  • Early Termination of Probation – a legal procedure where the court is asked to terminate an individual's probation early, so that the case can be expunged prior to the normal expiration of probation. More details HERE.

  • Eligibility for Expungement – most persons that satisfy their probation and have not been sentenced to state prison qualify for an expungement. The law is very complex. and we are happy to provide a free telephone consultation to determine your eligibility; on-line eligibility quizzes have inherent shortcomings.

  • Eligible for Expungement – when a person is able to petition the court for expungement. This is generally after probation has been completed, or if early termination is granted by the court

  • Expungement – a legal proceeding that allows a criminal conviction to be set aside, in the case dismissed pursuant to California Penal Code section 1203.4

  • Felony-a serious crime punishable by up to life in prison, although probation is often granted for first offenders. Most felonies, with the exception of certain sexual offenses, can be expunged. Certain felonies, known as "wobblers" can also be reduced to a misdemeanor as well as expunged.

  • Filing Fee – this is the amount of money the court charges to process in expungement petition; it varies from county to county but generally speaking is usually $120 for both felony and misdemeanor cases; a few counties are less and some counties charge as much as $150 which is the statutory maximum. All of our expungement fees include the filing fee as part of our flat fee for service.

  • Fines and Fees-costs associated with a criminal conviction; fines are payable to the court fees often to the probation department or other agencies for anger management classes, alcohol education programs, or the like.

  • Firearms Rights-a person convicted of a felony offense, or a certain number of enumerated misdemeanors in California, lose their right to possess a firearm. An expungement itself does not reinstate that right, however firearms rights can be reinstated by reduction of the felony to a misdemeanor in certain circumstances. See our BLOG post for more information.

  • Governor's Pardon-a procedure where the governor of the state of California issues an official pardon for an individual convicted of a felony offense. See Penal Code section 4852 et seq. These are quite rare, and we do not practice in this area. Be very cautious of anyone that represents to you they can obtain a governor's pardon for you.

  • Infraction-a low level of criminal offense punishable only by a fine. Up until just a few years ago infractions were not able to be expunged. The law has changed to allow certain non-traffic infractions to be expunged, even if that conviction occurred years ago.

  • Live Scan- a procedure where an individual has their fingerprints optically scanned at a terminal (there are hundreds of them in California) and is then mailed their official criminal record from the California Department of Justice. This allows discovery of all criminal records in California, along with case numbers, violation dates, and other specific information needed to successfully obtain an expungement.

  • Misdemeanor-a criminal offense punishable by a maximum of one year in jail. Offenses such as DUI, battery, petty theft and similar cases are misdemeanors. Most misdemeanors can be expunged.

  • On-line Record Check- dozens of Internet sites make available criminal record background checks. Our experience is that most of these sites are highly inaccurate and should not be relied upon. The most accurate way to check one's record is to the California Department of Justice through either a live scan or fingerprint card check.

  • Paralegal – an individual that is not licensed to practice law but fills forms and does other tasks related to the practice of law. Many paralegals offer expungement services but cannot represent you in court and essentially will only fill out forms on your behalf. We DO NOT use paralegals.

  • Probation – a period of time following a criminal conviction were a person is still under the supervision of either the probation department, or the court. There is formal and informal probation, formal probation involves reporting to the probation department, informal probation has no reporting requirement.

  • Probation Violation – (commonly “PV” or “POV”) when an individual fails to live up to their terms and conditions of probation, such as failure to pay a fine, complete a school, or complete community service. Cases where a probation violation occurs can still be expunged, but this is a discretionary act with the court.

  • Reduction - a procedure where a felony case (see "wobbler") is reduced post-conviction by a motion or petition under 17 be the California Penal Code to misdemeanor status. Under California law a felony reduced to a misdemeanor is considered "a misdemeanor for all purposes" which is of great help in finding employment, licensing and the like

  • Sealing Arrest Records -if you are arrested and not charged, or the case was dismissed by the prosecuting attorney, you may be able to seal records of that arrest under Penal Code section 851 et seq. The law has changed to make this easier to do, see our SEALING page.

  • Sealing Juvenile Records - most juvenile records can be sealed under provisions of the Welfare and Institutions code, Section 781 and following. There are certain exceptions to the type of cases that can be sealed which are usually serious felony offenses and are enumerated in Section 707 WIC. Once juvenile record has been sealed, almost no one has access to that information.

  • Sex Registration -persons convicted of certain offenses related to sexual conduct are required to register with the local police agency pursuant to California Penal Code section 290. An expungement does not relieve an individual of that responsibility to register. For misdemeanor sexual offenses a certificate of rehabilitation will in most circumstances relieve that registration requirement. For felony convictions such a registration requirement is usually a lifelong disability.

  • Wobbler – a felony offense that can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. Wobblers are grand theft (487 PC), assault with a deadly weapon (245 PC), forgery (470 PC) as well as a number of other offenses. In most circumstances a wobbler charged as a felony can be reduced to a misdemeanor even after many years have passed. The court retains jurisdiction to reduce a wobbler to a misdemeanor even if an expungement has previously been granted.


Most of our expungement services come with a money-back guarantee. Our fees are reasonable and competitive. Call 800 495 2819 or contact us through our site for a FREE Attorney / Law Firm consultation. This site is devoted ONLY to California Expungement Law, and has handled more than 4000 California expungement cases over the past 25 years.