With California Senate Bill 731 now law, most state felony convictions get automatically sealed from your criminal record four years after the case ends. In addition, all felony arrest records which did not lead to charges get automatically sealed after three years. Plus you cannot be denied teaching credentials for expunged drug possession convictions older than five years.
Here are five key things to know about California Senate Bill 731, which took effect on July 1, 2023:
- Most felony convictions will automatically get cleared from your record 4 years after the case ends.
- Arrest records for felonies punishable by state prison get automatically sealed if no charges are brought within 3 years.
- You can withdraw your guilty/no contest plea for most felony convictions and get the case dismissed once you meet the specified criteria.
- Expunged drug possession convictions more than 5 years old will not disqualify you from getting a teaching license.
- Each month California’s Department of Justice will review the statewide criminal justice database and clear all records eligible for “relief.”
SB 731 along with Assembly Bill 1076 comprise California’s Clean Slate Laws, making it easier to clear your background check and therefore find employment.
Below is a summary of when you can generally expect your criminal record to be automatically cleared (called “relief”) without you having to do anything.
|Your California criminal record||When your record gets cleared |
|Misdemeanor arrest with no charges brought||1 year after the arrest|
|Misdemeanor charge which gets dismissed||Right after the dismissal|
|Misdemeanor conviction where you are granted probation or completed other specified criteria||Right after probation/criteria is done|
|Misdemeanor conviction where you are not granted probation||1 year after case ends|
|Felony arrest with no charges brought||3 years after the arrest|
|Felony charge which gets dismissed||Right after the dismissal|
|Felony conviction where you are granted probation (not including serious, violent, or sex offender crimes)||Right after probation is done|
|Felony conviction where you are not granted probation (not including serious, violent, or sex offender crimes)||4 years after case ends|
In this article, our California criminal defense attorneys discuss:
- 1. What does SB 731 do?
- 2. What happened before SB 731?
- 3. Will my gun rights be restored?
- 4. What if my background check is still showing crimes that should have been cleared?
- 5. What is the difference between sealing, expunging, clearing, cleaning, and relief?
- 6. If my criminal record has not been cleared yet, can my employer ask about it?
1. What does SB 731 do?
The most important thing California Senate Bill 731 does is automatically clear most felony convictions four years after the case ends. This does not apply to serious felonies, violent felonies, or felonies that require sex offender registration.
Plus any felony arrests that do not result in charges get automatically cleared from your record after three years, even if the felony was punishable by state prison as opposed to county jail.
Other important measures in SB 731 are:
- In felony cases where you meet specified criteria, you can now withdraw your guilty or no contest plea and get the case dismissed – which will lead to automatic clearance from your criminal record.
- If you are applying for a teaching license, you will not be disqualified for any expunged drug possession convictions more than five years old.
Note that there may be a delay in getting your record automatically cleared if you pick up new criminal cases in the interim.1
2. What happened before SB 731?
Prior to SB 731, a limited number of criminal records were – and will continue to be – automatically cleared:
- Any misdemeanor or felony cases that are dismissed get cleared right away;
- Any misdemeanor or most felony cases where you are granted probation get cleared once you finish probation; and
- Any misdemeanor convictions where you were not granted probation get cleared one year after the case closes.2
3. Will my gun rights be restored?
Nothing in SB 731 will restore your gun rights if they have been stripped due to a felony or misdemeanor domestic violence conviction. Usually the only way to restore your firearm rights is through a Governor’s Pardon. Learn more about restoring gun rights in California.
4. What if my background check is still showing crimes that should have been cleared?
If your arrest, charge or conviction is eligible for automatic clearance but still appears on your background check, you can contact the California Department of Justice at (916) 210-6276. The Judicial Branch of California also provides information on how to petition to clean your record.
5. What is the difference between sealing, expunging, clearing, cleaning, and relief?
In California, expunging refers to getting a case dismissed after having initially pleaded guilty (or no contest) and completing certain court-ordered requirements.3 Once a case gets expunged, it can then be sealed from your criminal record so it no longer appears in background checks.4
Sealing can also go by the terms cleaning or clearing. Meanwhile, SB 731 almost exclusively uses “relief” to refer to getting your criminal record automatically cleared once you are eligible.
The legal terminology can get very confusing. Though with the passage of SB 731 and AB 1076 before it, your criminal record should get automatically cleared without you having to do anything (in most cases).
6. If my criminal record has not been cleared yet, can my employer ask about it?
Employers may not ask about criminal convictions until they make a conditional offer of employment. Then they have to perform an individualized assessment to determine whether your criminal history is serious enough to disqualify you for the job.5
Note that most background checks typically go back only seven years.6 Learn more about California’s Ban the Box laws.