Just a couple of generations ago a criminal conviction for something minor was easily forgiven and forgotten. Not today. In the 21st century, a criminal conviction for even a minor offense can have serious negative consequences above and beyond the punishment meted out by the court. In fact, the non-judicial consequences of a criminal conviction are often of greater concern than the sentence handed down by the court. Fortunately, if your conviction was entered in California you may qualify to have your conviction dismissed, or cleared, from your record. Only an experienced California criminal defense attorney can review the specific facts of your case and provide you with advice about your eligibility; however, a basic understanding of the criteria for dismissal and the procedures involved may be beneficial in the meantime.
Why Clearing Your Record Matters
People often make the mistake of focusing only on the immediate consequences of a criminal conviction, meaning the sentence imposed by the court. In their haste to avoid a jail sentence, defendants often accept a probation only guilty plea without considering the long-term consequences of the conviction. Some of those consequences, however, can be serious, including, but not limited to:
- Loss of current employment
- Disqualification for future employment
- Loss of driving privileges
- Loss of eligibility for assistance programs
- Loss of eligibility for federal student loans
- Disciplinary action for professional license
- Disqualification for residency or citizenship
- Removal from the country if you are a foreign national
- Interference with visitation or custody of minor children
What Convictions Qualify for Dismissal?
In the State of California, if you were convicted of an infraction or misdemeanor you may qualify for dismissal. Certain driving and sex crime offenses are excluded from eligibility and are therefore ineligible for dismissal. In addition, if you were convicted of a felony but were not sentenced to prison or put under the authority of the State Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, your conviction may also qualify for dismissal. If your felony conviction does not qualify for dismissal, and the previous qualifications do not fit your sentence, you may be eligible for a Certificate of Rehabilitation and Pardon; however, this does not have the same effect as a dismissal.
What Conditions Must Be Satisfied to Qualify for Dismissal?
If your conviction qualifies for dismissal, certain other conditions must also be met. If you were sentenced to probation, the following qualifications apply:
- You successfully completed probation or obtained early release;
- You also have paid all the fines, restitution, and reimbursements ordered by the court as part of your sentence;
- You are not currently serving another sentence or on probation for another offense; AND
- You are not currently charged with another offense
If you were never sentenced to probation, the following conditions must be met:
- Your conviction was a misdemeanor or an infraction;
- It has been at least 1 year since the date you were convicted;
- You have complied fully with the sentence of the court;
- You are not currently serving another sentence;
- You are not currently charged with another offense; AND
- You have obeyed the law and lived an honest and upright life since the time of your conviction
The court has the discretion, but is not required, to consider a dismissal under certain other conditions. If any of the following apply, but you have paid all fines, costs, and restitution and are not currently charged with a crime or serving a sentence for another crime, the court may consider dismissal:
- You received probation but you did not get an early release
- You did not fulfill all the conditions of probation
- You were convicted of any offense listed in Vehicle Code section 12810(a) to (e)
The Impact of a Dismissal
While having your conviction dismissed is certainly beneficial, it is important to understand what a dismissal does, and does not, accomplish.
- A dismissal usually allows you to answer “no” if asked by a private sector employer if you have been convicted of a criminal offense.
- You must answer “yes, conviction dismissed” if asked by a governmental employer. The employer is required by law to treat you as if you have no conviction.
- Law enforcement agencies and courts will still be able to find the record of your conviction and use it against you should you be convicted of another crime in the future.
- If your conviction requires you to register as a sex offender, a separate procedure is required to ask the court to relieve you of that requirement.
- Even a dismissed conviction may affect your driving privileges.
- A dismissal does not allow you to own or possess a firearm if your conviction prevented the same.
- A dismissal will not allow you to hold public office if the original conviction prevented the same.
More About Criminal Convictions in California
For more information about criminal convictions in the state of California, the following related resources are available for your review:
If you have been convicted of a criminal offense in California and you believe you may be eligible to have the conviction dismissed, contact an experienced California criminal defense attorney to discuss your options.