Criminal Convictions and Public Records
Do you have a criminal record in California? If you have been arrested, you have a record. If you have been convicted, it can negatively impact your future. The good news is that there are ways to avoid a conviction in the first place or dismiss one if it is too late to avoid the conviction.
Access to criminal records in California is limited to legitimate law enforcement purposes and authorized applicant agencies. You can request your own record. A prospective employer, professional licensing agency, or adoption facilitator may also request your record.
What can an employer ask you? California Labor Code section 432.7 governs what an employer can and cannot ask you:
- Cannot ask about arrests
- Cannot ask about participation in diversion program that did not result in conviction
- Can ask about arrest for pending case
- Exceptions apply to employers such as law enforcement agency, daycare center, government employer
Megan’s Law and Juvenile Records
While most criminal convictions are not public record, Megan’s Law makes sex offense convictions public record. Sex offenders in California and elsewhere must register and the registry is available on the DOJ website.
Juvenile records in California are not public record. Access is limited to parents of the minor, attorneys for the parties involved in the case, court personnel, and the minor. Juvenile record can become part of adult record. Juvenile records are not automatically sealed at any point, however, you can petition to have juvenile records sealed when you turn 18. Records are destroyed five years after they are sealed.
Avoiding a Conviction via Diversion
If acquittal is unlikely, entering into a diversion program may be the best way to avoid a conviction. Diversion programs require an agreement between defendant and prosecutor. Successful completion results in the State of California dismissing all charges, meaning no conviction.
Program requirements differ. Some common requirements include:
- Supervision from 4 months to a year or more
- Payment of restitution to victim
- Payment of fines, program fees, and court costs
- Evaluation, counseling, training program completion
- Drug testing
- No further arrests during program
Dismissing a Conviction
In California, if you were convicted of an infraction, misdemeanor, or felony you may be eligible to have the conviction dismissed as long as you were not sentenced to state prison or otherwise placed under the control of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Depending on the facts of your case there may be additional requirements for dismissal, however, all applicants must show:
- Completion of probation and/or incarceration if ordered
- Payment of all fees, fines, restitution
- Not currently on probation/serving sentence
- No charges currently pending against you
How does a dismissal work? A petition is required for dismissal. If court grants petition, court withdraws your former plea of guilty, or former verdict of guilty from trial. Court then dismisses charges against you. Legally, this is the same as if you were never convicted.
For most purposes, you can answer “no” to questions regarding conviction of a crime once your conviction has been dismissed. There are exceptions to this for employers such as government agencies.
It is very important that you understand the limitations of a dismissal, which include:
- Law enforcement agencies and courts still have access to original record
- Conviction can still be used against you to increase sentence in future conviction
- Can impact driving record
- Dismissal of a sex offense conviction does not automatically remove sex offender registration requirement (a separate procedure to petition for removal is available)