California Relief Options
California offers a variety of routes to a restoration of rights, depending on the particular type of conviction or disposition, the individual’s circumstances and the reasons for seeking relief.
Individuals uncertain about which type of relief best suits their needs and circumstances should seek advice from the Law Offices of Paul W. Nguyen.
- “Wobbler” felony reduction – PC § 17(b)
- Misdemeanor reduction – PC § 17(d)
- Early termination of probation – PC § 1203.3
- Set aside & dismissal – probation imposed* – PC § 1203.4
- Set aside & dismissal – no probation imposed* – PC § 1203.4a
- Set aside & dismissal – PC § 1170(h) sentence* – PC § 1203.41
- Sealing misdemeanor adult conviction by minor – PC § 1203.45
- Certificate of Rehabilitation & Pardon – Cal. Penal §§ 4852.01 et seq.
- Direct Pardon (notably for out-of-state residents) – Cal Penal § 4852.16
- Restoration remedy for veterans – PC § 1170.9
- Certificate describing arrest as detention – PC § 851.6
- Record sealing – juvenile misdemeanor arrest – PC § 851.7
- Record sealing & destruction following arrest – factual innocence – PC § 851.8
- Record sealing following acquittal – factual innocence – PC § 851.85
- Record sealing following conviction – factual innocence – PC § 851.86
- Record sealing following non-drug DEJ (NEW 01/01/2014) – PC § 851.87
- Record sealing & registration following identity theft – PC § § 530.6/530.7
- Record sealing following drug diversion – PC § 851.90
- Juvenile Record Sealing & Other Juvenile Record Remedies – W & I Code §§ 781, 1772, 1179, PC § § 851.7, 1203.47
- Automatic destruction of records of some marijuana arrests/convictions – HS § 11361.5
Is Your Conviction Eligible for Dismissal?
You can petition for a dismissal if you were convicted of an infraction, misdemeanor, or felony and received any combination of:
- County jail time
- Probation, or
- A Fine.
Your conviction will not be dismissed if you are currently charged with, on probation for, or serving a sentence for another offense. You are also not eligible for a dismissal if you have committed a sex crime against a minor, or certain offenses under the California Vehicle Code. (Cal. Pen. Code, § 1203.4.)
Finally, if you were sentenced to state prison or transferred to the authority of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, your conviction is not eligible for a dismissal. Under those circumstances, you may instead request a Certification of Rehabilitation (a court order declaring that a person has been rehabilitated) and pardon from the governor. (Cal. Pen. Code, §§ 4852.01-4852.21.) Neither a Certification of Rehabilitation nor a pardon erases or seals a criminal record.
When Can You Petition for Dismissal of Your Conviction?
You have completed probation or obtained early release. You may petition for dismissal if you have satisfied all the conditions of your sentence. (Cal. Pen. Code, § 1203.4.)
You were convicted of an infraction or misdemeanor and never received probation. You may petition for dismissal if you have satisfied all the conditions of your sentence. (Cal. Pen. Code, § 1203.4.)
You were convicted of a felony and you have completed probation or county jail time. You may file a petition to get your felony conviction reduced to a misdemeanor. (Cal. Pen. Code, § 17(b).) After that, you can petition to have your misdemeanor conviction dismissed. (Cal. Pen. Code, § 1203.4)
You were convicted of another offense, and the court agrees to dismiss it. The following offenses may be dismissed if you can convince the court that a dismissal is in the interests of justice:
- Convictions for which you did not complete probation or obtain an early release, if you have otherwise met all the conditions of your sentence — such as paying fines and restitution.
- Convictions under California Vehicle Code section 12810(a)-(e), if you have satisfied all the conditions of your sentence.
(Cal. Pen. Code, § 1203.4.)
You have completed a diversion program. After successful completion of a diversion program, your record will show a dismissal.
You were charged with possession of marijuana. You may not need to petition for dismissal if you were convicted of possession of marijuana for personal use. Such convictions, if entered after January 1, 1976, should be erased from your criminal record after two years. Note that this does not include convictions for growing, selling, or transporting marijuana. (Cal. Health & Saf. Code, § 11361.5.)
In 2016, transportation of any amount of marijuana for personal use — that is, not for sale — was downgraded from a felony to misdemeanor possession. However, the statute is not retroactive, so it’s doubtful that someone with a pre-2016 felony conviction for transporting marijuana could argue that the offense should now be regarded as a misdemeanor, making the defendant eligible for a dismissal. (Cal. Health & Safety Code, § 11360.)
“Vacating” a Conviction When Immigration Consequences Not Explained or Defendant Has Evidence of Actual Innocence
As of January 1, 2017, certain criminal defendants who have served their sentences may go back to court and ask that their convictions be “vacated.” If the request is granted, the court will withdraw their guilty or “no contest” pleas and the case will start over. This opportunity is available only to defendants who can show that they did not meaningfully understand the immigration consequences of their pleas, or that evidence of newly discovered innocence requires that the conviction be vacated. Vacating a conviction is not the same as sealing or expunging the court record; instead, it takes the parties back to the point of arraignment, and the case will proceed from there.