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Dismissal and Sealing of Convictions

Under what circumstances can someone obtain a dismissal of charges after a conviction? When can you seal your conviction? California law provides for a unique disposition of cases after conviction under certain circumstances.

Specifically, Penal Code ("PC") sections 1203.4, 1203.4a, and 1203.45 provide the bulk of relief to persons convicted of offenses that wish to seek to have the case dismissed or to seal that criminal history. California law does not provide for the true expungement of criminal records. Expungement is the destruction of records to truly erase its existence. However, some of the benefits found in expungement relief provided in other states are available in California, such as to deny the previous status of certain offenses for which relief herein is granted in the face of either private or government questioning, depending upon the circumstances below.


A person that has fulfilled his or her conditions of probation entirely that is able to convince a court that, in the interests of justice, he or she should be permitted to dismiss his or her case, may be able to obtain that relief. The actual mechanism for relief under this provision is to set aside the conviction and permit the petitioner to either withdraw his or her original plea of guilty or no contest or to vacate a jury's verdict and permit the entry of a not guilty plea. The case is then dismissed. The disposition of that offense in federal and state criminal history records should reflect the same dismissal that an original arrestee would receive if wrongfully accused or the prosecution determined that the case could not be proved. Relief is not available if the person is charged with another offense, serving another sentence, or granted probation for another offense after judgment and by the time relief is sought. However, no relief can be given for the suspension or revocation of driving privileges or to affect those convictions as prior offenses for future suspension and revocation purposes. This relief cannot be obtained for anyone convicted of certain sexually violent crimes or for infractions. There are other offenses charged and other circumstances that prevent a person from obtaining relief under this section.


Unlike section 1203.4, every person convicted of a misdemeanor or infraction NOT granted probation may have his or her case dismissed. After the lapse of one (1) year, from the date of judgment, if the misdemeanant had complied fully with and completed his or her sentence and has no other offenses pending or convictions since the judgment of this case, he or she can obtain the same results as provided in PC 1203.4, i.e. to withdraw his or her guilty or no contest plea or have a jury's verdict set aside, and to then have a plea of not guilty entered and the case dismissed. Indeed, in the court's discretion, even if the person did not satisfy the aforementioned requirements other than to be past one (1) year from judgment, the court can grant the same relief of dismissal.


The successful applicant under the above provisions may deny that he or she was convicted of a crime to private employers, but may not deny the conviction in applications for public offices or for licenses to be granted by the government. Dismissal under these sections does not give a person, ineligible to hold public office because of the offense at issue or otherwise, the right to hold public office.

In any subsequent prosecutions for offenses, the offense dismissed may be used against the applicant as if it was never dismissed.

Also, the dismissal does not permit the possession of a firearm, if prohibited from doing so by that offense or otherwise.


How do sealing records actually benefit you? If the court grants the sealing of criminal records per PC 1203.45, those records of arrest and records relating to the offense charged in the accusatory pleading are kept from access by all, but the court, jury, counsel and others the court permits to inspect them. Thereafter the conviction, arrest or other proceedings related to the case are deemed never to have occurred and the applicant can answer accordingly to any question posed relating to it, even as to an application for public office and licensure.

The bad news is that California law permits the sealing of criminal history in a very small set of circumstances. Only a person under the age of 18 at the time of the commission of a misdemeanor, regardless of disposition, that would otherwise be eligible for or actually obtained dismissal under either or both above provisions (1203.4 and 1203.4a) may be given this relief. The sealing of records is at the discretion of the court. Persons that were convicted of another or more offenses in the same or separate cases is not eligible to have either of his or her case records sealed, except as to certain offenses. There are other exceptions and conditions that may preclude relief to seal records. Additionally, it is highly likely that any criminal history information provided to the federal government may not be sealed. Also, federal law may require that you not deny the existence of the circumstances of the sealed case for certain purposes.

Further, in defamation cases, the opposing party may be able to get the record unsealed and used in those proceedings.

This article is not meant to constitute legal advice and specifically mentions that certain other information related to the issues contained herein are missing, generally because the data is too numerous or involved to set forth here and should be addressed by an attorney when the facts of a case so require. Consult with a criminal defense attorney if and when you wish to seek dismissal or the sealing of criminal cases, so that he or she can properly determine your eligibility for relief under the above sections and to properly address any potential obstacles to relief.