Arrested persons can have their criminal records sealed provided their case meets various requirements. The record sealing process is beneficial for any person with a previous criminal arrest record, as it allows you to restart your life with minimal prejudice. Additionally, the liberty of having previous criminal records sealed opens you up to more career opportunities that promote personal development. While record sealing is available to people with criminal charges as a matter of right, you may face several challenges in advocating for your case in court. Usually, the presiding judge will hold complete discretion to grant or deny the right to have records sealed. As a result, it is crucial to seek the service of an experienced criminal defense attorney to help you with the matter.
At The Law Offices of Fountain & Hattersley, you will receive criminal defense services from a team of experienced criminal lawyers. Our attorneys have worked with numerous clients in the past, giving them the knowledge and experience they need to increase the chances of a successful record sealing. Therefore, if you or a loved one would like to file a record sealing petition in Pasadena, we recommend reaching an attorney from our firm for the best legal support.
Defining What Record Sealing Is
Upon arrest for a criminal charge, your case may result in acquittal, dropping of charges, or finding you guilty. When you are found innocent, or when the evidence produced is insufficient, you should have the chance to seal the details of your criminal charges. In doing so, you alleviate the chances of facing prejudice based on background checks conducted on your record.
Hence, record sealing serves to clear the records of your arrest and court arraignment for the promotion of justice. Your arrest and booking fingerprints, rap sheets, and photos are all part of the records to be sealed upon obtaining the order from a judge. Police records also fall within this category, including details in the police occurrence book that describe the nature of the alleged crime.
Upon the fulfillment of the different requirements that lead to a successful record sealing, the listed documents will be destroyed or permanently deleted from your record. Subsequently, no information on the sealed records will appear, except in specific circumstances discussed further below.
Eligibility Criteria For Record Sealing Petitioners
Section 851.87 of the Penal Code provides for a record sealing right to any arrested person, as long as he/she has not faced conviction. Thus, several requirements form the eligibility criteria for anyone seeking to apply for record sealing based on the provision.
Therefore, it is necessary to consult a criminal defense lawyer who understands the different conditions in applying for a record sealing procedure. With the information, you can increase the chances of success in the petition. The following are the parties eligible for record sealing:
A Defendant Who Faced a Conviction Reversal on Appeal
In some cases, you may face an unfair initial conviction order at the trial court for a criminal charge. The occurrence is common where some facts in the issue were wrongfully presented by the prosecution. Moreover, you may face conviction from having limited evidence that limits your ability to raise credible defenses.
Therefore, when you are dissatisfied with the final verdict that finds you guilty, you may proceed to file for an appeal. Usually, a criminal appeal may take some time to proceed because of matters like witness availability. The prosecutor handling your case may also need to transfer the duties to another officer because of the overwhelming workload in the trial courts.
Nevertheless, if you appeared for the appeal and won the case, it means that your initial conviction is invalid. In these circumstances, you will become eligible for record sealing, as the initial criminal conviction is ruled out by the appeal. Your criminal defense attorney should, therefore, gather all relevant documents concerning the two trials as proof of your acquittal in the petition court.
For example, it is necessary to include the final appeal judgment that declared you innocent of the criminal charges you faced and revoking all conviction orders you received before appeal. With the weight that the proof adds to your case, you will have an easier time in the record sealing petition.
However, you need to remember that you are only eligible in this category if the prosecutor cannot re-file the initial criminal charges. Here, you should establish that the settlement of the matter in appeal court marked the end of further trial possibilities.
A Suspected Person who Did not Face any Criminal Charges
It is also common for you to face arrest and not have any criminal charges filed against you. For example, if you got arrested in the company of suspected gang members, the arresting officers will have probable cause to apprehend you based on the assumption of affiliation with the gang.
However, further investigations will reveal your innocence and non-participation in illegal gang activities. Hence, you will be released from the police station where you faced detention based on inadequate details linking you with alleged crimes.
Despite the release, you will have already undergone the police station booking process that is a mandatory procedure for any suspect. During the booking, you will have your fingerprints, photographs, and personal details recorded for future reference.
Consequently, your name may still appear in background checks under the criminal category regardless of having faced no convictions. Therefore, opting for a record sealing petition is advantageous, as it helps you avoid facing unfair prejudice from the entities seeking your background information.
Finally, you want to confirm that nobody can file the criminal charges against you currently, as provided for in the statute of limitations. The provisions in the statute provide definite time limits for aggrieved persons to file a complaint against you for an alleged criminal activity.
Upon the depletion of the period, the complainant waives his/her right to apply for a criminal entry with the prosecutor. As a result, you cannot face criminal trials beyond the statutory limitation period, as it would be an unfair ambush that contravenes your right to a fair trial.
A Defendant Who Faced Trial But Was Acquitted
Upon your arrest and arraignment, the criminal trial will begin, whereby the prosecutor will present a case against you. Conversely, your criminal defense lawyer will provide strategic defenses to counter the prosecutor's case, and plead with the judge/jury to find you innocent of the offense.
Usually, a criminal trial gives the prosecutor the responsibility to uphold the burden of proof. Therefore, he/she bears the burden of showing that you involved yourself in criminal elements of the charged crime and that you should be guilty.
The trial process is often long and tedious, especially because both parties must produce all gathered admissible evidence for their presentations. Nonetheless, if you have a diligent criminal lawyer, you will win your case against the prosecutor, meaning that you will receive a charge acquittal.
With the judge finding you innocent of the alleged crimes, you cannot receive penalties in a conviction unless otherwise stated. Hence, you earn a right to have all records of your arrest and detention to be deleted because they were only taken down as a procedural matter.
During the record sealing petition, the judge will request for one primary source of proof in acquittal; the judgment issued to release you from criminal liability. If he/she is satisfied that you have met all other requirements, you are likely to receive the approval to seal records.
A Defendant With Dismissed Charges After Undergoing a Pre-Trial Program
If you are a defendant in a criminal case involving drug use or other harmful practices that require participation in a reform program, you may also be eligible for record sealing. The regular criminal process involves ordering a defendant into a pre-trial program where he/she undertakes behavioral reforms under intense scrutiny.
For example, if you faced conviction for possession of narcotics and drug paraphernalia, the presiding judge may order you to join a rehabilitation program before trial or sentencing. The goal of issuing these orders is to help you recover from addiction, especially if you developed severe dependence.
Additionally, the reform programs provide a legal education that should help you understand the criminal nature of your actions. Hopefully, you will appreciate the need to uphold the law and will not have to face criminal trial and conviction upon completing the program.
When you return from the trial, the presiding judge may request an official report from your supervising officer to affirm that you participated and learned from the pre-sentencing or pretrial program. Moreover, you will have to take drug tests to show that you have complied with the regulations since your initial arrest.
When the judge ascertains your compliance during the reform program, he/she will dismiss your criminal case and put you under intensive scrutiny. Since you will have evaded a criminal conviction, you can petition for record sealing under the specific circumstances of your case.
Where You Faced Charges that Were Later Dismissed
Sometimes, you may be rightfully arrested and arraigned in court for a criminal accusation. However, several issues may prevent the criminal matter from proceeding, meaning that the judge will have to dismiss the case.
For example, if the prosecutor presents recurrent inadmissible evidence, the judge can question the credibility of investigations. If the evidence further proves that there were inadequate steps taken towards making a comprehensive investigation, your matter should be set aside to avoid an unfair hearing.
Similarly, if the judge discovers that your case involves false allegations from police misconduct, your lawyer can push for a case dismissal. Issues relating to police misconduct include planting evidence to form probable cause for arrest.
Also, if an officer subjected you to duress or undue pressure to confess that you committed a crime, it amounts to misconduct. The allegations are serious enough to warrant a case dismissal, primarily if the misconduct distorted vital information to the case.
Before confirming your eligibility, your defense attorney will also advise you to establish that the prosecutor cannot re-file the case. Sometimes, the possibility of reopening a trial is available, meaning that you will have to face a fresh trial for the same charges.
For example, if the prosecutor resolves his/her problem by gathering new evidential sources, you should prepare to attend a full trial where your criminal defense lawyer will have to provide defenses or risk facing convictions.
However, if there is no chance for re-filing, the case dismissal acts as the final order on your matter. As a result, you will not face an official conviction, meaning that you can request for record seeking under P.C 851.87.
The Record Sealing Process in California
Like other legal processes, you need to provide several details before applying for the record sealing procedure. Some of the details aim to confirm your identity and your interest in the court matter as the defendant. Some information to provide includes:
- Your name as it appears in official documents
- Your date of birth for identification purposes
- The location of your arrest, including the city or county
- The nature of charges you faced for an alleged criminal offense
- The law enforcement department that arrested you and handed you over for prosecution
- The case number for your initial court trial
- An official statement in writing that grants you the right to the process
- The court number and division that handled your criminal case and failed to convict you
When your criminal defense lawyer helps you show that you qualify for record sealing, you may begin the process.
Filing your Petition in Court
The first step involves filing a court petition where you officially present your request to have the records sealed on valid grounds. It is essential to remember that filing for the petition must be in the court where you faced initial charges after the arrest. The necessity to stick to one court gives the judge an easier time uncovering the necessary documents and information to begin the process.
Additionally, you should file the petition in the county or city you faced arrest for easier access to justice. The allowance comes in handy when the court option is unavailable for different factors. For example, if the criminal division in the court is not in session, you do not have to wait until its resumption because of delays. Instead, you can work with your lawyer to find another court that holds the same jurisdiction.
However, it is noteworthy that dealing with a record sealing petition in a different court may be more complex. This is because the judge will have to request most of your documents from the initial criminal court, leading to extended petition sessions.
Subsequently, you should expect to face delays for reasonable periods as case logistics are deliberated on. Despite this, your lawyer should follow up on the matter to help push for expeditious operations where no rational reason is available for the delays.
Serving the Relevant Parties
Secondly, you will serve your record sealing petition to the prosecutor and law enforcement body that worked on your case. In any suit, you should serve the party you intend to appear against in court for a smooth litigation process.
An official service includes the declaration or notice of motion to undertake a specific court matter, in this case, to initiate record sealing. In the documents, you will acknowledge the recipients as involved parties and give them a timeframe to respond to the information. If they do not respond to your served documents, you may proceed to make official requests to the presiding judge to have your records sealed.
Serving the other party with legal documents gives them a chance to make adequate preparations and appear in court as expected. Thus, your legal team should serve these two entities on time to secure a confirmation of their court appearance for the record sealing.
A Court Hearing to Determine Whether to Proceed
Sometimes, the prosecutor will dispute your petition for the record sealing process, as it challenges his/her previous undertakings. In this case, he/she will push for a court hearing where a judge will determine the validity of your request in relation to justice.
At this point, you need to work closely with your criminal attorney to prepare for the probes that the prosecution and judge may pose. You also need to note that the judge applies his/her discretion, so you do not have guaranteed access to record sealing.
Your lawyer will provide helpful legal support by conducting thorough research on your previous trials. For example, he/she should identify the reasons for arrest, go through the witness statements and other evidential records.
The research will help find any argument point that is useful in showing that you faced an unfair trial and therefore deserve your records sealed. In doing this, he/she will have played a pivotal role in preventing a prejudicial effect on your case, where the judge gives a verdict based on your criminal record.
Moreover, your lawyer should help you organize all the necessary documents that you will have to show in court during the opening statements and evidential segments. A lack of proper planning may cause you to leave our important documents, leading to a delayed hearing. Consequently, you will have to wait for longer than expected before hour records are sealed.
The Waiting Period
If your lawyer is successful in justifying your reasons for the record sealing request, the judge will grant the orders. However, the effect is not always immediate as sealing records requires the relevant authorities to retrieve information from different sources.
Hence, the standard waiting period before records are sealed is three months or ninety days. If you do not receive any official communication confirming that the process was successful, we recommend getting in touch with your lawyer to determine the way forward.
Parties Exempted from Petitioning for Record Sealing
While having your records sealed is a matter of right, some criminal defendants cannot access the services based on the type of crime committed. Moreover, the relevant legal officials will determine the circumstances surrounding the arrest and filing of charges to disqualify you from the process.
Firstly, you cannot have records sealed if you have engaged in criminal patterns of abuse. Patterns, in this case, are characterized by having two to three previous criminal convictions for domestic, elderly, or child abuse within three years. Alternatively, the court may detect a pattern based on your record of up to five arrests for abuse within the same period.
On top of this, you are ineligible for record sealing if you committed identity theft to escape facing criminal charges in the past. The illegal activities will warrant fresh criminal charges and a conviction eventually. Thus, you may face two separate criminal cases. From the complicated turn of events, sealing your criminal records becomes inaccessible because of the impunity.
Moreover, your records cannot be sealed if charges are ongoing. For example, if you have faced a delay in trial court proceedings, you will not have a chance to seal records because the judge may decide to convict you at the end. Hence, the situation calls for patience as the trial proceedings continue.
Find a Record Sealing Attorney Near Me
The benefits of having your criminal records sealed make it worth facing the challenging record sealing process. You can worry less during the petition and court hearings if you are working with an experienced criminal defense lawyer. With reliable legal services, you raise your chances of success because the court only requires credible justifications.
At The Law Offices of Fountain & Hattersley, we aim to provide excellent criminal defense services to clients who want to file a record sealing petition in Pasadena. Our skilled team is determined to deliver positive results by putting your needs first and conducting due diligence on your case. Call us today at 626-793-4111.