How to obtain an “Expungement” in California
Written by Suzanne Ferguson
Criminal Defense Attorney – Temecula, CA
This guide will walk you through step-by-step on how to get what is commonly referred to as an “expungement” for charges on your criminal record, with or without an attorney.
1) Get a “Live Scan”
This first step to obtaining relief under California’s Penal Code Section 1203.4 (commonly referred to as an expungement) is to go run your criminal record and get the printout. You can search on Google for “live scan locations” in your area and it will usually cost $10-$30. They essentially take your fingerprint and run your criminal record. It will show all arrests and convictions and you can use the case data from this printout to fill out the court forms.
2) Download the court forms
The forms can be found at www.courts.ca.gov. You will need both CR-180 and CR-181 (which is the order the judge must sign if they grant your request). The same form is used for both misdemeanors and felonies. For felonies, there is a place on the form to request the charge first be reduced to a misdemeanor and then dismissed pursuant to 1203.4. If you successfully completed probation on the case in question without having a single violation, you are ENTITLED to this dismissal so the judge will have no choice but to grant the motion. (If you did violate probation, see below.)
3) Serve the forms on the DA’s office
Once you’ve completed forms, you will need the original set and two sets of copies (for a total of three sets). You will need to take all three sets to the District Attorney’s (DA) office in the area where you case was originally heard. The DA’s office will stamp all three copies (showing others that they have been “served”) and keep on of the copies. You will then take the remaining two sets (one copy and one original) to the courthouse where your case was originally heard. You will need to go to the clerk’s office and file the motion by giving them the original set and the remaining copy. They will stamp both (just like the DA did) and keep the original. The last copy is for you to keep for your records. If you completed probation on the case in question without having any violations, you can allow the clerk to just accept the forms without setting a court date. A judge will review your form in chambers and sign them without you needing to appear in court. The court will then mail you the signed order once the petition is granted. If you did violate probation, you will want to ask the clerk to set a court date for the request to be heard so that you can pitch your case to the judge in person. When you put a face/person to the name/paperwork the judge will have a harder time saying no quickly!
4) Appear in Court (if necessary)
If you did ask to set the case for a hearing date, it will be approximately two weeks (maybe more) from the date you filed the forms. DRESS PROFESSIONALLY! Don’t dress like you are going to a friend’s house. Wear you’re absolute best and be conservative…no t-shirts, shorts, sandals, tank tops, cleavage, or chest hair! You want to show the court you take them and life seriously and you are showing (or not showing) respect from the minute you walk in the doors of the courtroom based on what you chose to put on that morning and how much time you chose to put into getting prepared for court. The judge will notice this. It will help. Also, take with you any documents that will show the good things you’ve been doing since you finished probation. That includes things like letters of reference, proof of employment, proof of community involvement, school enrollment records, etc.
5) Consider Hiring an Attorney
If you are one of those people who had violations of probation but you would still like to get an expungement, I would strongly suggest you hire an attorney. The motion you file will need to convince the judge you deserve the dismissal you are requesting and the one-page form referenced above will never give them enough information to do so. An experienced attorney can file an expertly written motion and provide the court with all the proof of you good conduct so that when you walk into the courthouse, you have a leg up.
For lots of self-help information and forms go to http://www.courts.ca.gov.