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What to Know About California's "Clean Slate" Laws

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Aug 14, 2023

As of July 1, 2023, California has implemented one of the country's most aggressive criminal justice reform policies. Commonly referred to as the Clean Slate Law, Senate Bill 731, built on its predecessor, Assembly Bill 1076, this law represents a significant shift in the state's approach to criminal punishment.

Aimed at reducing the long-term consequences of criminal convictions, these laws offer hope and a fresh start to those who have served their time and avoided further criminal charges.

California's "Clean Slate" Laws
Senate Bill 731 automatically clears most felony convictions from your criminal record after 4 years.

Under California Senate Bill 731, most state felony convictions will get automatically sealed from your criminal record four years after the case ends.

Also, all felony arrest records that did not lead to charges will be sealed after three years, but this does not apply to serious, violent, or sex offender felonies. Misdemeanor arrests are sealed after one year if there are no charges.

Further, you can't get denied teaching credentials for expunged drug possession convictions older than five years.

You can withdraw your guilty or no contest plea for most felony convictions and get the case dismissed if you meet certain conditions. Cases that are dismissed should be cleared immediately. Convictions where you are granted probation, should be cleared once the case closes.

The Clean Slate Act removes the burden of filing a motion to seal or expunge your record. Most notably, however, it allows for automatic relief of felony convictions where you may have been incarcerated, which will help people find housing prospects and jobs. This relief does not restore gun rights.

The California Department of Justice will review the statewide criminal justice database every month and clear all records eligible for relief. This law is designed to make clear your background check easier and find employment.

What is the Background and Significance of the Clean Slate Laws?

Historically, a criminal conviction has followed individuals long after they have completed their sentences, impacting employment prospects, housing applications, and various other aspects of life.

The "Clean Slate" laws aim to automate the record-sealing process for eligible individuals, signaling a progressive move toward rehabilitation and reintegration into society.

By automatically sealing eligible criminal records, these convictions will no longer appear on background searches, allowing an estimated one million Californians restored access to opportunities such as gainful employment, preferred housing, education, and more.

The expectation with these reforms is that they will help individuals, reduce recidivism rates, and even help the economy.

Notably, the automatic record relief process could get delayed if you pick up new criminal cases. Also, if your criminal record is never eligible for automatic relief, you still might be able to get relief by filing a petition to seal or expunge.

AB 1076 and SB 731: A Comprehensive Clean Slate

Senate Bill 731 (SB 731) and Assembly Bill 1076 (AB 1076) are the two pillars of California's Clean Slate laws—one built upon the progress of the other. Let's take a closer look at these bills.

AB 1076

Signed into law by Governor Newsom in 2019, AB 1076 initiated the clean slate process by providing for the automatic sealing, effectively expungement of all misdemeanor, non-violent felonies, and non-sex offenses that did not result in incarceration after defendants had completed their probation, diversionary programs, etc.

AB 1076 and SB 731: A Comprehensive Clean Slate
California Senate Bill 731 and Assembly Bill 1076 are the primary laws of a clean slate after an arrest.

It also allowed for the automatic sealing of arrest records that did not result in a conviction. Many defendants affected by this law were already eligible to have their records sealed upon petitioning the government.

AB 1076 made these expungements automatic. It excluded those convicted of violent or serious felonies, sex offenders, and those convicted of domestic violence.

SB 731

Enacted in September 2022 and fully implemented by July 2023, Senate Bill 731 builds upon the progress made by AB 1076 by extending automatic expungement to misdemeanor, non-violent felonies, and non-sex offenses that did result in incarceration, provided the defendant serve their time and stay out of trouble for a specified period.

It also extends automatic sealing to many domestic violence offenses. This bill makes many more Californians automatically eligible to have their records sealed.

How do the Clean Slate Laws Work in California?

Under the current laws, those charged and convicted of eligible offenses can have their criminal records automatically sealed once specific criteria have been met. Specifically, the following are eligible for automatic relief:

For misdemeanor offenses

  • Misdemeanor arrests with no charges: immediately following the arrest;
  • Misdemeanor arrests with no conviction: immediately after the case is dismissed;
  • Misdemeanors with probation: immediately on completion of probation;
  • Misdemeanors with jail time: one year after release with no further arrests.

For eligible felony offenses

  • Felony arrests with no charges: three years after the arrest;
  • Felony arrests with no conviction: immediately upon dismissal;
  • Felonies with probation: immediately on completion of probation;
  • Felonies with prison time: four years after release with no further arrests.

Is a Sealed Record the Same as Expungement?

There is a difference between having a criminal record sealed versus expunged, although they have the same basic effect.

Is a Sealed Record the Same as Expungement?
In the state of California, when criminal records are sealed, they are not fully expunged.

When a record is expunged, it is effectively destroyed, meaning it is erased from all records as if the crime never occurred. With record sealing, the criminal record still exists in specifically restricted databases—it's just removed from all public-facing records, such as criminal background checks.

In California, criminal records are sealed, not fully expunged. However, potential employers, landlords, and others can no longer see your criminal records once they are sealed—and you are legally permitted to say you have not been arrested or convicted of a crime.

The only exceptions are when you apply for jobs in education, law enforcement, or public office—in these cases; criminal records will still be visible. Furthermore, having your record sealed won't necessarily restore your right to possess a firearm.

What Crimes Are Ineligible for Automatic Record-Sealing?

Under the provisions of the Clean Slate laws, certain criminal offenses are not eligible for sealing. These include the following:

If you need additional information or seeking to get your arrest record sealed under Penal Code 851.87 PC, contact our law firm to review the case details. Eisner Gorin LLP has offices in Los Angeles, California.

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About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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