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Record Sealing vs. Record Repair: Which One Applies to Your Charge?

You probably have a number of different reasons for wanting to clean up your criminal record. A criminal record can have negative effects on every facet of your life, from being approved for a line of credit to gaining admission to the academic institution of your choice.

If you find you are having problems making certain purchases or getting the job you want because of your criminal record, you may want to consider taking steps toward remedying the situation as best as possible, given your individual circumstances. This is something that an experienced criminal defense attorney can help you with.

Why Should You Care About Record Sealing and Record Repair?

A record can cause problems with employment and housing, whether you were arrested or convicted (or both). For example, it's common for landlords and employers to ask applicants whether they've been arrested or convicted or a criminal offense; as a result, landlords might not rent to—and employers may not hire—someone who says "yes" to one of these questions.

However, in some cases, you may be eligible to get your arrest or conviction removed from your record. Furthermore, once your record is repaired in California, then you can answer "no" to questions asking whether you've been arrested or convicted or a criminal offense (at least under most circumstances).

What’s the Difference Between Record Sealing and Record Repair (or Expungement)?

When you begin looking into which options are available, you'll see the terms “sealing” and “expungement” used interchangeably. However, each term denotes a separate legal function and should be not considered synonymous. Although it can be difficult to understand precisely what the distinction between expungement and record sealing is, a criminal defense attorney with experience in post-conviction relief law will have the requisite knowledge to explain the difference between these two legal concepts and help you determine which type of relief is applies to your charge.

While expungement and sealing of a criminal record are each useful in certain situations in California, determining which will best serve your goals is essential.

What's Record Sealing?

If you were arrested but never convicted of a crime in California, then you may be eligible to seal your arrest record. A person is eligible to have their arrest record sealed when:

• Criminal charges were never filed;

• Criminal charges were dismissed after being filed;

• Defendant was found not guilty at trial;

• Defendant's sentence was overturned or vacated on appeal; or

• Defendant successfully completed pre-trial diversion or drug treatment program.

However, there is an exception to sealing an arrest record when the person who is petitioning the court has a history of domestic violence, child abuse, or elder abuse.

Sealing an arrest limits who is permitted to view the record, so your arrest will not appear on most criminal background checks in California. Additionally, you will be permitted to deny that you were arrested on employment and housing applications once your record is sealed.

What’s Expungement?

If you have completed your sentence for a misdemeanor or felony offense in California, then you can petition the court to have your case dismissed. If the petition is granted, the court "sets aside" your guilty plea which results in an expungement, or dismissal. Once an expungement is completed, a person can deny ever having been convicted of the expunged crime.

To be eligible for felony record expungement in California:

  • You were convicted of a qualifying offense;
  • You must have successfully completed the terms of your probation;
  • You must not have pending charges or be serving any other sentence at the time you file your petition; and
  • You paid all court-ordered fines.

In addition, if you were convicted of a wobbler, which is a charge that can be filed as a felony, it may be reduced to a misdemeanor through PC17b. This does not automatically occur; you must ask the court for this specific relief and must pursue the judge. When granted, a felony reduction through PC17b will restore gun rights.

If you went to state prison for your offense, you won't be eligible for an expungement. However, you may be eligible for a certificate of rehabilitation.

What Works Best for Me?

The process of petitioning the court for either an expungement or a record sealing can seem impenetrable to the uninitiated. Seeking the guidance of a criminal defense attorney experienced in post-conviction relief law will give you the best chance to get the outcome you need.

At Mark Raymond McDonald, Esq., A Law Corporation, we have years of experience helping those across Southern California remedy their criminal records, and we can help do the same with yours. Take advantage of our knowledgeable legal team today!

Contact our firm at (909) 443-1599 for a legal consultation. We can help you begin working toward sealing or expunging your criminal record without further delay.