What An Expungement Will Not Do


Our California expungement lawyers emphasize to clients that Penal Code 1203.4 PC criminal record expungements do not magically erase a person's criminal record.

While there are certainly some very significant benefits to a California expungement, this form of post-conviction relief has limitations as well. Some frequently asked questions about California expungements that reveal some of their biggest limitations are:

1. Will a California expungement keep people from finding out about my conviction?

A California expungement under Penal Code 1203.4 PC does not erase a criminal conviction. Rather, it updates the record of conviction to reflect that:

  • your guilty plea has been withdrawn and a “not guilty” plea entered in its place OR your guilty verdict after a jury trial has been set aside,
  • probation is terminated, and
  • the case has been dismissed.1

If someone does a background check on you, even after an expungement, they still may see that you suffered the criminal conviction--a major limitation of PC 1203.4 expungements for many defendants. But that person will also see that your conviction was successfully expunged.

2. Do I have to disclose an expunged conviction to state licensing boards? 

If you are asked whether you've been convicted of a crime in an application for a state license, for public office, or for contracting with the state lottery, you must disclose any criminal convictions--even if the convictions have been expunged under PC 1203.4.2

Despite this serious limitation of California criminal expungements, an expungement is still likely to help you if you plan to make one of these applications. This is because a licensing board may be less likely to hold an expunged criminal conviction against you.

3. Will a conviction that was expunged under PC 1203.4 be used to enhance my sentence for a subsequent conviction?

Some California criminal convictions are “priorable.” This means that if you are convicted of crimes in the future, the court can (and sometimes must) impose stiffer sentences because of the prior record.

One major limit of expungements is that they do not prevent a conviction from being “priorable” for this purpose.3

Drunk driving (DUI) is a good example. If a person is convicted of a first-time DUI, the DUI conviction is “priorable” for the next ten years. If he suffers another DUI conviction during that ten-year period, the new conviction will be treated as a second-time DUI and punished more severely--even if the first DUI conviction was expunged under PC 1203.4.

4. Will a California expungement help me regain my right to own a firearm?

California Penal Code 29800 PC makes it illegal to own, use or possess a firearm after a felony conviction and after certain misdemeanor convictions.

An expungement under Penal Code 1203.4 PC does not get rid of the prohibition on owning firearms after certain convictions.4

5. Does a PC 1203.4 expungement mean I won't have to register as a sex offender under Penal Code 290?

An expungement does NOT relieve a convicted sex offender in California of the duty to register as a sex offender under California Penal Code 290.5 This is a major limitation to expungements for defendants who face this onerous requirement.

However, other forms of relief--such as a certificate of rehabilitation or a governor's pardon--may be available to relive a registered sex offender of this obligation.

6. Will an expungement keep me from being deported?

For defendants who are not U.S. citizens, simply obtaining an expungement will not prevent you from experiencing the immigration consequences of a criminal conviction--such as deportation or inadmissibility. This is because immigration courts only acknowledge post-conviction relief if the underlying conviction was legally invalid.6

However, sometimes the process of applying for an expungement can help with the immigration consequences of a particular conviction. For example, if you reduce your felony to a misdemeanor as part of the expungement process, a conviction may no longer be for an inadmissible crime--and may no longer prevent you from getting a green card or receiving another immigration benefit.

Because the interaction between California criminal and expungement law and federal immigration is extremely complex, it is best to discuss your situation with a criminal defense attorney who understands both areas. 

Call us for help . . . 


If you or a loved one is in need of help with Penal Code 1203.4 PC expungements and you are looking to hire an attorney for representation, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group. We can provide a free consultation in office or by phone.

We have local offices in Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, Pasadena, Long Beach, Orange County, Ventura, San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside, San Diego, Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and throughout California.

 Legal References:

  1. Penal Code 1203.4 PC -- California expungements of criminal convictions [including limitations of expungements]. ("(a) (1) In any case in which a defendant has fulfilled the conditions of probation for the entire period of probation, or has been discharged prior to the termination of the period of probation, or in any other case in which a court, in its discretion and the interests of justice, determines that a defendant should be granted the relief available under this section, the defendant shall, at any time after the termination of the period of probation, if he or she is not then serving a sentence for any offense, on probation for any offense, or charged with the commission of any offense, be permitted by the court to withdraw his or her plea of guilty or plea of nolo contendere and enter a plea of not guilty; or, if he or she has been convicted after a plea of not guilty, the court shall set aside the verdict of guilty; and, in either case, the court shall thereupon dismiss the accusations or information against the defendant and except as noted below, he or she shall thereafter be released from all penalties and disabilities resulting from the offense of which he or she has been convicted, except as provided in Section 13555 of the Vehicle Code. The probationer shall be informed, in his or her probation papers, of this right and privilege and his or her right, if any, to petition for a certificate of rehabilitation and pardon. The probationer may make the application and change of plea in person or by attorney, or by the probation officer authorized in writing. However, in any subsequent prosecution of the defendant for any other offense, the prior conviction may be pleaded and proved and shall have the same effect as if probation had not been granted or the accusation or information dismissed. The order shall state, and the probationer shall be informed, that the order does not relieve him or her of the obligation to disclose the conviction in response to any direct question contained in any questionnaire or application for public office, for licensure by any state or local agency, or for contracting with the California State Lottery Commission.")
  2. Same.
  3. Same.
  4. Penal Code 1203.4 PC -- California expungements of criminal convictions [including what an expungement will not do]. ("(a) . . . (2) Dismissal of an accusation or information pursuant to this section does not permit a person to own, possess, or have in his or her custody or control any firearm or prevent his or her conviction under Chapter 2 (commencing with Section 29800) of Division 9 of Title 4 of Part 6.")
  5. Penal Code 290.007 PC -- Effect of California expungement [what an expungement will not do]. ("Any person required to register pursuant to any provision of the Act shall register in accordance with the Act, regardless of whether the person's conviction has been dismissed pursuant to [California Penal Code] Section 1203.4, unless the person obtains a certificate of rehabilitation and is entitled to relief from registration pursuant to Section 290.5.")
  6. Matter of Pickering, (BIA 2003) 23 I & N Dec. 621, 624.

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