Free Pardon Applications

One of the most common questions I receive from people with a criminal record in California is when will my criminal record be automatically cleared.  The short answer is generally never.   But this question is a bit more complex than it sounds because there are at least two records that are relevant.   The first is the court record and the second is criminal record summary stored at the California Department of Justice (DOJ).

The court can preserve its local copy of the record forever.   However, budget and storage space concerns create a natural incentive for courts to destroy or minimize the records over time.   Each court is free to set it’s own record storage policies as long as they conform to California law.   The two most relevant sections of law that govern a court ability to destroy records are California Government Code section 68152, which sets periods a court clerk must wait before destroying a record; and California Penal Code sections 13103 and 13125 which sets forth what information must be permanently archived or transmitted to the California Department of Justice for permanent storage.  Court’s polices regarding record storage ranges from some courts that never destroy to those who destroy local copies as soon as they are allowed to under the law.   And even after some courts destroy copies of the documents, they do preserve a summary of the case on an accessible index.  Some courts even make this index available to the public on a web site or sell it to criminal background check companies.

The Department of Justice is more cut and dry.  The DOJ is maintains criminal record information forever (for statistical purposes) and associate it with the person until the person reaches the age of 100 (for background check purposes).  See

So, there is a three paragraph answer to what seems like an easy question.

Short of waiting 100 years, a person may be eligible to seal their record pursuant to California Penal Code 851.8 if they can show they are factually innocent, expunge their conviction pursuant to Penal Code section 1203.4, and possibly avail themselves of other remedies if the record involves specified diversion cases or low level marijuana offenses.

Written by Mathew Higbee, Esq

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9 Responses Leave a comment

  1. John L says:

    I have called the court several times and have not ever gotten a straight answer. I am lucky if they just answer the phone. Thank you for this site.

  2. Ellie says:

    In 2006 I was told by a co-worker that a police report was made against me. I was never sent any information nor was
    a warrant made. I have not seen the report. My most recent
    employer released me from my job as a result of the report.
    How do I go about retrieving this report and since a report
    is all there is, how difficult would it be to have a report
    like this removed after five years now?

    • jay kay says:

      First of all, did you EVER sign a release of information/investigation for your work to even conduct a background on you? If not, take them to court.

  3. Ellie says:

    Thank you for continuing to look into this on my behalf.
    My question is: how does one qualify to have a record
    that has not materialized into to any formal charges
    removed from their record permanently?

  4. Stephanie S says:

    I’m a convicted felon no longer on probation. I applied for food stamps and was denied because my felony was for drug sales. I was told if my drug conviction was just for possession, there would be no problem. That doesn’nt sound right to me. A convicted murderer, arsonist,bank robber, or sex offender can easily get aid but I can’t because i sold drugs years ago to support my habit. I have numerous certificates and diplomas that tell my story of rehabilitation but to no avail. I think the law should be changed or modified

  5. Jen Burder says:

    Very helpful post, thanks!

  6. Jon says:

    \What ever happened to second chances? People should not be stigmatized for the rest of their life for a mistake.

    • Cindy says:

      I agree 100% with you but it depends on the situation, for instance someone who murdered someone or robbed a bank ect. ect. things like that shouldn’t be but lesser offences that can be called felonies should not be.

  7. Ralph Jacks says:

    10yrs ago I pleaded no contest to Lewd and Lucivious behavior.
    I have not had any other run ins with the law.
    I had a background ck on me as a volunteer and they denied me as I came back. I expected this but after 10 yrs.
    I have had several community awards and such. I work with many organizations from kids to adults.
    If I purge the record and I do not want to hide my mistake but forced too. Will this make a difference in future back round checks.
    I live in Calf. Never did any jail time, just probation and community service

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