Is it Possible to Expunge a Felony Conviction in California?

felony expungement california

For those convicted of a felony in California, having that crime follow them for the rest of their lives can feel like a permanent punishment. Felony convictions limit access to jobs, housing, professional licenses, and other opportunities for rehabilitation and second chances.

However, expunging or erasing a California felony conviction from your criminal record is possible in some cases.

What Does It Mean to Expunge a Felony Conviction?

Felony expungement is the process of having your felony crime sealed or destroyed, effectively removing it from your criminal record. It’s more than just having a felony reduced to a misdemeanor – an expunged felony is treated as though you were never convicted at all in the eyes of the law.

Expunging a felony conviction restores many civil rights lost after a felony sentence, like the right to vote, serve on a jury, and own a firearm. It also makes it easier to pass background checks for employment, housing, loans, and other services that bar applicants with certain criminal histories.

Who Can Expunge a Felony in California?

In order to qualify for felony expungement in California, you must meet these requirements:

  • You were convicted of a California felony crime as an adult. Juvenile felonies are handled differently.
  • You completed your sentence probation period and did not violate any probation terms.
  • You do not have any other felony convictions on your record from any state.
  • You have not been convicted of any misdemeanor crimes within the last 5 years.

Essentially, you must prove that the felony conviction you want to expunge is an isolated incident in an otherwise clean criminal record. You must also show that you have been rehabilitated if you want a court to approve expunging the conviction.

Why Expunge a Felony Conviction in California?

Having a felony on your record brings many collateral consequences that become barriers to getting your life back on track after incarceration. Eliminating that felony from your criminal record through expungement can reopen doors by:

  • Improving Job Opportunities: Many employers immediately disqualify applicants with felony convictions. Expunging your felony can help you pass criminal background checks.
  • Restoring Gun Ownership Rights: Felons are prohibited from owning firearms in California, but expungement can restore your Second Amendment rights in some cases.
  • Regaining the Right to Vote: Those imprisoned for felonies in California temporarily lose voting rights. Expungement restores voting rights.
  • Easing Access to Housing: Landlords often conduct background checks and deny applicants with criminal histories. An expunged record makes approval more likely.
  • Increasing Eligibility for Professional Licenses: Many professional certification boards ask about criminal history. An expunged felony conviction wouldn’t have to be reported.

While expungement has clear benefits, it has limitations too. Government agencies like law enforcement can still view your expunged felony in California. And in some circumstances, like applying for a government job, you may still have to disclose your expunged conviction.

How California Felony Expungement Laws Have Changed

Historically, qualifying for felony expungement in California was limited to certain offenses, and waiting periods could be a decade or longer. But recent changes in state laws have expanded and simplified the felony expungement process.

In 2018, California passed Assembly Bill 1076, which:

  • Expanded the list of felonies eligible for expungement and reduction to misdemeanors. Many non-violent, non-serious, and non-sexual felonies now qualify.
  • Reduced the waiting period before being able to apply for expungement. For most felonies, you now only have to wait 1 year after completing probation.

Previously, these limitations excluded many people with older felony convictions from their records. The relaxed rules under AB 1076 opened new expungement opportunities for thousands of Californians moving on from past mistakes.

What Felonies Can Now Be Expunged Under California Law?

While limits still exist, AB 1076 allows people to petition for expungement of many more felony crimes, including:

  • Non-violent drug possession felonies
  • Minor theft and fraud crimes
  • Low-level burglary felonies without enhancements
  • Felony vandalism, bad check, and forgery crimes

Consulting with a criminal defense attorney knowledgeable in California expungement law is the best way to verify if your specific felony conviction is eligible. The courts make final eligibility decisions on a case-by-case basis.

Navigating the Felony Expungement Process in California

Gaining approval for a felony expungement in California involves filing a petition with the court, attending a hearing, and receiving a court order granting your expungement request. Here are the basic steps:

  1. Determine eligibility – Confirm your felony qualifies based on offense type and waiting period.
  2. Obtain records – Get certified copies of your complete criminal record, including the felony you want expunged.
  3. Complete petition – Fill out California forms CR-180 and CR-181, plus local county forms.
  4. File petition – Submit completed forms to the court along with expungement fees.
  5. Attend hearing – If required in your county, attend your court hearing date to explain why you should receive expungement.
  6. Serve notice – Provide notice of expungement to specified law enforcement and justice agencies.
  7. Receive court order – If approved, the court will issue an order granting your felony expungement petition.

This process can take anywhere from 3 to 6 months, based on court backlogs. While costly and complex, going through the steps greatly improves your chances of success versus informal requests.

What Are the Costs for Felony Expungement in California?

Pursuing a formal petition for felony expungement involves costs, including:

  • Court filing fees – Approximately $150 to file the petition in California.
  • Attorney fees – Around $2,000 on average if hiring a lawyer. Can reach $3,000+ for complex cases.
  • Other costs – Fingerprinting, record ordering, etc. Expect $500+ in total expenses.

However, you can request your filing fees be waived if you qualify as indigent and participate in California’s Expungement Eligibility Program. Doing the legwork yourself instead of hiring a lawyer also saves substantially on legal fees.

Understanding Your Odds of Getting a Felony Conviction Expunged

Given the effort and costs involved, it’s reasonable to ask – what are my chances of successfully expunging a felony in California? Approval odds depend on:

  • Following eligibility rules – Meeting offense type and waiting period requirements is critical.
  • Submission quality – Well-prepared petitions get better results. Sloppy applications are denied more often.
  • Individual factors – Your overall criminal record, employment status, and rehabilitation matter.
  • County norms – Some courts are simply more lenient than others.

Generally, felony expungement approval rates exceed 50% statewide when eligibility criteria are met. But careful preparation and legal guidance can boost your probability of success significantly.

Tips for Putting Together an Effective Felony Expungement Petition

To improve results, we advise taking the time to put together an expungement petition that:

  • Clearly establishes your eligibility under California law to have your felony expunged.
  • Thoroughly collects all records to present a complete view of your criminal history.
  • Explains in detail why you deserve expungement and how you have rehabilitated yourself.
  • Professional formatting and quality to demonstrate seriousness.

Crafting a convincing case for yourself takes effort – another reason consulting with an expungement lawyer can often be worth the expense.

Moving Forward After a Felony Conviction

If you or a loved one has a former felony conviction from many years ago still dragging you down, know that you have options. California law understands people make youthful mistakes and works to provide second chances through record sealing.

But navigating the complex expungement and reduction process is difficult without experienced legal guidance. Our expungement attorneys offer experience in cleaning up criminal records under current California law. We’ve helped clients increase their odds of approval and watched them gain access to better jobs as a result.

Don’t let an old felony conviction continue to block employment, loans, and other opportunities before exploring record-clearing solutions. Contact us to discuss your specific circumstances confidentially. Our goal is to help people move forward after paying their debt to society.

Author Bio

Daniel Kolacia is the CEO and Managing Partner of Kolacia Law Firm, a Rancho Cucamonga, CA, criminal defense law firm. As a former prosecutor with more than 15 years of experience in criminal defense, he is knowledgeable about both sides of the courtroom, an advantage he uses to help defend his clients. He has zealously represented clients in various legal matters, including white-collar crimes, misdemeanors, felonies, traffic cases, and other criminal charges.

Daniel received his Juris Doctor from the Southwestern University School of Law and is a member of the California Bar Association. He has received numerous accolades for his work and has worked on several high-profile cases featured on Dateline, CNBC, Los Angeles Times, and various local publications.

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