Expungements and Pardons

Clearing Criminal Records

There are several ways to “clear” your criminal record in California.  Each has its own set of requirements and procedures.  The most common procedures are what is commonly referred to as “expungements” and “pardons.”  They are explained below.

Under California law, a person who has been convicted of any felony or misdemeanor offense must, for the rest of his or her life, answer the question “Have you ever been convicted” with a “yes” unless the conviction has been expunged, he or she has been granted a certificate of rehabilitation and pardon.  While there are distinctions between these various legal devices, they have fundamentally the same impact.  Once the relief has been granted, a person is legally allowed to answer the question “Have you ever been convicted” with a “noexcept in an application for a license issued by a governmental agency, in an application to run for public office, or in an application to contract with the California State Lottery.


The most common, easiest to obtain and fastest relief can be obtained under Penal Code sections 1203.4, 1203.4a or 1203.41  Relief under these sections is available to people convicted of both felonies and misdemeanors.  To be eligible for relief under this section, the following conditions must be met:

    • You must not be on probation or parole for any offense; and
    • You must not be under indictment or currently charged with a crime; and
      • If you received a probationary sentence (for either a felony or misdemeanor) the probation must either be completed or terminated; or
      • If you received a non-probationary sentence for a misdemeanor offense you are seeking to expunge, it must be at least one year since the date of conviction; or
      • If you received a non-probationary sentence for a felony offense you are seeking to expunge, it must be at least two years since you completed your sentence (one year if a suspended sentence) (NEW law effective January 1, 2014).

Generally, if you are seeking to expunge multiple convictions that occurred on different dates, it is best to begin with the newest conviction and work backwards.  That is because a court may deny an expungement to a person because they picked up additional convictions.  By expunging those first, the court may be more inclined to view you as deserving the benefit of the expungement.

Certificate of Rehabilitation and Pardon

Another method of clearing your criminal record is through a process known as a Certificate of Rehabilitation and Pardon under Penal Code section 4852.01 subject to the time frames set forth in Penal Code section 4852.03.  This procedure differs from an expungement in that it is primarily for felony convictions and is significantly more involved than expungements.  A judge will look at a lot more factors before granting a Certificate of Rehabilitation.  Once a judge does, the Certificate is passed to the governor and considered as an application for Pardon.  (In some cases, it is a good idea to first expunge and later seek a certificate of rehabilitation and pardon.)

To be eligible for this relief, the answers to the following four questions must be Yes

    • Were you convicted of a felony and sentenced to a California state prison?
    • Were you discharged upon completion of the term and parole supervision?
    • Has it been more than seven years since you were released from prison?
    • Have you been living in the state of California for the past 5 years?

And the answers to the following two questions must be No

    • Have you committed any new criminal conduct since your release from prison?
    • Are you currently charged with committing any offense?

If you meet the above criteria, you may be able to obtain a pardon in order to clear your record

Important note

Whether you obtain an expungement or a pardon, certain things remain unaffected.  You right to own firearms is NOT restored by either of these procedures.  You would have to seek specific relief from that legal disability AFTER a pardon and it is highly unlikely it will be granted except in extraordinary circumstances.  Any convictions you had remain on your record in the sense that they are eligible prior convictions in the event of later criminal charges.  Finally, you will have to disclose the expunged or pardoned conviction(s) in any application for a license, public office or contracting with the California State Lottery.

Call Wegman & Levin at (818) 980-4000 and speak to one of our experienced lawyers to find out more.  All initial consultations are FREE.