Can Felony Cases be Expunged?

A felony conviction can mess up your life. Just because of it, you may lose out on jobs, scholarships, and decent and affordable housing. This is why you should expunge it.

Most felony convicts usually wonder if their criminal records can be expunged. The answer to this question is yes - it is possible to expunge a felony. Do not let a felony conviction ruin your life.

In this blog, we will explain how you can expunge felony convictions in Los Angeles. We will also highlight the eligibility criteria for a felony conviction expungement and the benefits of having it. If, after reading this article, you will still have more questions about the expungement of felony convictions, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation.

What is the difference between a Felony and a Misdemeanor?

You may be wondering the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor. The key difference between the two is the degree of seriousness of the offense.

Felonies are more serious offenses than misdemeanors. As a result, they attract more grievous penalties.

Typically, the punishment for a felony is a jail or imprisonment term of more than one year. The length of this jail term will depend on the type of offense charged and the aggravating factors pertinent to your case. Some offenses, such as murder and robbery with violence, may attract lengthy imprisonment terms upon conviction. Sometimes, the judge may also impose a fine, in addition to the imprisonment term.

On the other hand, the penalty for a misdemeanor is a jail term of less than one year. In most cases, if the judge decides to impose a fine, the fine amount would be less than $1,000. The judge may also make you face other penalties, such as:

  • Community service

  • Probation

  • Rehabilitation

  • Restituting the victim

However, in some felony cases, instead of imposing an imprisonment term, the judge may place you on probation.

Moreover, unlike misdemeanor trials, felony trials are conducted before a jury. Some examples of misdemeanors include:

  • Petty theft

  • Vandalism

  • Disorderly conduct in public

  • Shoplifting

Here are some examples of felonies:

  • Murder

  • Robbery with violence

  • Rape

  • Arson

Certain offenses are categorized as wobblers. These offenses are neither felonies nor misdemeanors, but they can be charged as both. Some examples of these offenses include:

  • Vehicular manslaughter

  • Driving under the influence (DUI)

  • Burglary

  • Grand theft

What is Expungement?

Simply put, expungement is deleting a criminal conviction. As a result, the conviction does not show up in court or law enforcement departments’ search results. The primary law on expungement in California is Penal Code 1203.4.

To have your criminal conviction expunged, you must petition for it. Then, the court will conduct an expungement hearing. If your application for expungement is successful, the court will enter a ‘not guilty plea’ or a ‘finding of not guilty’ and have your case dismissed. This expungement will release the convict from the negative consequences of a conviction.

Expunging Felony Cases

According to PC 1203.4, it is possible to expunge a felony conviction. However, you should meet the following criteria:

  • You’ve completed the probation term imposed

  • You never served a state prison term for the offense

  • You had served a state prison term, but you would have served it in county jail instead had you been convicted after the Senate passed the ‘Proposition 47 Law’

Remember, the typical punishment for a felony is a jail or imprisonment term, but the judge can impose a probation term instead. This means that if you were sentenced to an imprisonment term, it will not be possible for you to apply for expungement unless you could have served the imprisonment term in a county jail had you been convicted after the implementation of the 'Proposition 47 Law.' This is as provided by Penal Code 1203.42.

On the other hand, if you were sentenced to probation or a county jail term, you may apply for expungement.

Note that if you were sentenced to a probation term, you must have successfully completed it. Successfully completing a probation term means that:

  • You’ve complied with all conditions the judge imposed during probation, for example, restituting the victim, attending rehabilitation programs, and performing community service

  • You’ve attended all court appearances, either personally or through your lawyer

  • You never engaged in any illegal acts during the probation term

You are not required to have completed the whole probation term. Sometimes, you may apply for early termination of probation.

Note that you cannot apply for an expungement of a previous felony conviction if you are currently charged with or serving a sentence for a subsequent criminal offense. Moreover, if you were sent to prison because of violating a probation condition, you may not qualify for expungement.

In some cases, you may be considered eligible for expungement if you were sent to state prison and you worked as a firefighter through the prison fire camp. However, the best way to know whether you are eligible for expungement is to consult a highly experienced criminal defense attorney.

Expungement of a Felony under the 'Proposition 47 Law'

Remember, under the 'Proposition 47 Law,' you can expunge a felony if you were sentenced to a state prison term, and you ought to have been instead sentenced to a county jail term.

However, this does not mean that you automatically qualify for expungement. It is within the judge's discretion to grant you an expungement. If the judge believes that it would be in the interests of justice for you to get an expungement, then he/she will grant you one.

Your application for expungement under the 'Proposition 47 Law' will not be successful if:

  • You are serving a sentence or a probation term for any criminal offense

  • You are facing charges for any crime

  • You are under supervised release for a criminal offense

  • Not more than two years have elapsed since you completed your sentence

Who is Not Eligible to have a Felony Conviction Expunged?

Remember, you cannot have your felony conviction expunged if you were sentenced to state prison unless you could have served a jail term instead after the Senate enacted the 'Proposition 47 Law.' Also, you cannot be eligible for expungement if you are still serving a probation term for a criminal offense.

Moreover, some felony offenses can never be expunged. These include certain sexual offenses committed against children, such as:

  • PC 286(c) - Sodomy with a child

  • PC 261.5(d) - Statutory rape

  • PC 288 - Lewd acts with a child

  • PC 287(c) - Oral copulation with a child

If you violated or did not satisfy your probation conditions, you may not be eligible for expungement. However, depending on the judge's discretion, he/she may choose to grant or deny your application for expungement. The judge's decision will be based on the following factors:

  • Your overall performance during the probation term

  • The nature of the offense you were convicted for

  • Your criminal history

  • Any evidence showing why you deserve the expungement, such as the potential of getting a scholarship or an employment opportunity, support of your family, and reconciliation with the victim.

However, not all hope is lost if you are rendered ineligible for an expungement. You can opt for other alternative reliefs, such as applying for a certificate of rehabilitation or the Governor’s pardon.

What are the Benefits of Expunging a Felony Conviction?

When you expunge a felony conviction, you will have a clean record. As a result, you won't face the negative consequences that come with such convictions.

Some of these consequences include losing out on jobs, scholarships, and affordable housing. Once you have your felony conviction expunged, no one will discriminate against you based on your criminal record.

It will also be much easier for you to get a state professional license. Therefore, you will be able to grow your career. If you are a non-citizen, an expungement will help you avoid certain immigration consequences, including deportation.

Additionally, you'd be able to freely state that you've never been convicted of a criminal offense. This means that you cannot be prosecuted for perjury if you state you've never had a criminal conviction in your documents.

Can Employers Find Out About an Expunged Felony Conviction?

In the past, no one could have known about your criminal history besides law enforcement. Nowadays, any person can know about your criminal history, thanks to information companies that compile vast national criminal records databases that anyone can search by name and date of birth.

It is these information companies that enable potential employers to look up your criminal record within minutes. This is why it is important to have your felony conviction expunged. Once it is expunged, it won't show up in your record.

If it does show up, California expungement laws prohibit employers from denying you a job simply because of the conviction. If your potential employer does so, you may institute legal proceedings against him/her.

What a Felony Expungement Cannot Do

Unfortunately, a felony expungement will not be helpful when:

  • You want to reinstate your suspended or revoked driver’s license

  • You would like to restore your right to own or possess a firearm under California Penal Code 1203.4

  • You want to end your obligation to register as a sex offender under California Penal Code 290

  • You intend to run for elections to a public office

  • You want to apply for a job with the California Lottery Commission

Also, the judge will still count expunged convictions as prior convictions during sentencing for a subsequent, priorable offense. Moreover, according to California's Three Strikes Law, an expunged felony conviction is still counted as a strike.

To obtain any of these additional reliefs, you may consider applying for a certificate of rehabilitation or the Governor’s pardon. You can do this after the judge has approved your application for felony expungement.

How to Expunge Felony Cases

To expunge your felony conviction, you must take the following five steps:

  • Hire a lawyer

  • Prepare the necessary paperwork

  • File for felony expungement

  • Prepare for the felony expungement hearing

  • Refile for felony expungement or seal the felony expungement

Here is a comprehensive explanation of each of these steps:

  1. Hire a Lawyer

You won't succeed in filing for felony expungement by yourself. Applying for felony expungement is a complex, confusing, and time-consuming process.

However, if you hire an experienced criminal defense attorney, the process will be much easier for you. Attorneys know how to streamline the expungement process and avoid fatal mistakes that can make your application unsuccessful.

  1. Prepare the Necessary Paperwork

To expunge a felony, you must first reduce it to a misdemeanor. This means that you must petition the court to reduce the felony to a misdemeanor by filling out a certain form. Generally, it is much easier to convert a wobbler felony to a misdemeanor than a non-wobbler felony.

Once the felony has been reduced to a misdemeanor, you can prepare the necessary paperwork for the expungement. Typically, what is prepared is a petition, which will be supported by evidence showing your eligibility for expungement, such as character references.

This paperwork can easily be found online or at the courthouse. However, it might not be easy to fill out this paperwork by yourself. This is because you may not know the exact forms to fill that apply to your situation. This is why you need the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney.

  1. File for Felony Expungement

Once you've prepared the necessary paperwork, you need to file it at the court where your case was heard. Different courts have different policies and procedures. Some courts will require you to deliver the paperwork in person, while others will request you mail it to them.

Currently, there is no filing fee for expungement in Los Angeles. However, you will be charged a one-time fee of $120 after the expungement proceedings. However, this fee may be waived if you prove that you cannot afford it.

Once you file the necessary paperwork at the courthouse, you will receive a response within five months. Note that timelines are crucial when filing for felony expungement. For instance, you ought to serve the prosecution with your application at least 15 days before the hearing date.

  1. Prepare for the Felony Expungement Hearing

Your attorney will attend the expungement hearing on your behalf. But, if the judge requires you to attend the hearing in person, your lawyer will help you prepare.

It is only the judge who decides whether to grant or deny your application for expungement. There is no jury. After analyzing the merits of your application and the unique facts pertinent to your case, the judge will make this decision.

  1. Refile for Felony Expungement or Seal the Felony Expungement

If the judge denies your application for expungement, you can refile a new one after six months. Note that the judge must give a specific reason why your application was denied.

On the other hand, your attorney will have your criminal record sealed if your application is successful. As a result, it won't be available to the public, and you can comfortably state that you have never been convicted of a criminal offense.

When can you Apply for a Felony Expungement?

You can only apply for felony expungement after you’ve completed your probation term. However, you may also apply for expungement before completing the probation term. In this situation, you will ask the court to grant you an early termination of probation.

If you intend to apply for felony expungement under the 'Proposition 47 Law,' you must do so after two or more years from when you were released from the state prison. This means that if you apply for expungement before the two years lapses, the judge will deny your application.

What is the Difference Between Expungement and Sealing/Destroying Records?

Do not confuse between expungement and sealing/destroying records. These are two different processes.

You can only have your criminal record sealed if:

  • You were arrested, but the prosecution never filed any criminal charges

  • The judge dismissed your case

  • The jury acquitted you

  • The appellate court dismissed and overturned your conviction

  • You completed a diversion program, such as PC 100 Deferred Entry of Judgment or Proposition 36 Drug Diversion

The major distinction between expungement and sealing is that there must be evidence showing that you were factually innocent in sealing. Expungement focuses on the fact that you were convicted and you are reformed, while the primary basis for sealing is that you never committed the criminal offense in the first place.

Find a Los Angeles Expungement Attorney Near Me

In today's competitive world, you need to stand out to be successful and get opportunities. Getting opportunities is difficult, but it will be much more difficult for you if you have a felony conviction. This is why you need to expunge it.

We at The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney are here to help you. If you would like to expunge your felony conviction, we invite you to call us at 310-564-2605 for a free consultation.

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