PC 851.8 - How to Seek a "Certificate of Factual Innocence" in California


Under California Penal Code 851.8 PC, a person can bring a petition fora certificate of factual innocence if he or she:

  1. has been detained by police, but not officially arrested for a crime,
  2. has been arrested for an offense, but not formally charged,
  3. was formally charged for a crime, but the charges were later dismissed, or
  4. was formally charged for a crime and tried for that crime, but there was no criminal conviction.

The person bringing the petition has the burden to show he or she is factually innocent of the crime. If the petition is granted, the police agencies must seal and destroy all records of the arrest

In this article, our California criminal defense attorneys will discuss

attorney signing document
Penal Code 851.8 PC is the California statute that directs how a party may file a petition for factual innocence (“PFFI”).

1. What is a petition for factual innocence?

Factual innocence” legally means that a person is innocent of any criminal act. A party files a petition for factual innocence (PFFI) following an arrest in order to have the arrest record destroyed.

A successful petition for factual innocence shows that there was no reasonable cause to believe a person committed an offense for which he was arrested.

California Penal Code 851.8 PC sets forth the procedures for filing the petition. If a petition is granted, the law enforcement agency having jurisdiction over the offense must seal a party's arrest records for three years (from the date of the arrest).1 After this time, the records and the petition get destroyed.2

2. How do I apply?

After an arrest has been made, a party files a PFFI with the law enforcement agency having jurisdiction over the offense.3

In the petition, the arrested party must prove that his arrest was made without legal cause.4 A party can attempt to satisfy this burden of proof by submitting any of the following pieces of evidence:

  1. witness testimony,
  2. photos,
  3. surveillance video,
  4. receipts,
  5. cell phone records, and
  6. DNA.

If a party shows that there was no reasonable cause for an arrest, it is then up to a prosecutor to show that there was reasonable cause for the arrest.

Upon hearing from both sides, a judge then determines:

  1. whether or not the arrest was warranted, and
  2. if the petition should be granted.5

Please note that a party must file a petition for factual innocence within two years from the date of the arrest.

judge smiling happy
If a judge is convinced that there was no reasonable cause for a party's arrest, then he/she will grant the PFFI.

3. What happens if I'm found to be factually innocent?

If a judge is convinced that there was no reasonable cause for a party's arrest, then he/she will grant the PFFI.

Once this occurs, the police department and the Department of Justice must seal and destroy all records of the person's arrest. This includes any subsequent criminal proceedings.6

Moreover, the above entities must also destroy the following (that are associated with the arrest):

  • arrest reports,
  • booking information,
  • mugshots,
  • court records, and
  • any evidence collected or gathered.

4. When am I eligible to apply?

A party can file a PFFI post-arrest. But there are actually four distinct scenarios under when a person can file a petition. These are when a person:

  1. has been detained by police, but not officially arrested for a crime,
  2. has been arrested for an offense, but not formally charged,
  3. was formally charged for a crime, but the charges were later dropped, and,
  4. was formally charged for a crime and tried for that crime, but there was no criminal conviction.

5. What are the benefits?

The reality is that arrest records can make it difficult for persons to accomplish basic life goals. Thus, a petition for factual innocence removes barriers to these goals.

A background check these days may now be run for any of the following:

  • a job application,
  • a request for a mortgage loan,
  • an apartment application, or
  • a school application.

If this background check shows a past arrest, the applications or loans could get denied.

An arrest record could cause further complications as well. For example, if a party is arrested for violating one of California's domestic violence laws, then the party could lose his gun rights. A PFFI is helpful in making sure these rights are protected.

sealed record california
“Sealing” an arrest means the record will not show up on most criminal background checks in California.

6. What does it mean to seal an arrest record?

Penal Code 851.87 is the California statute that pertains to the sealing arrest records as a matter of right.

Sealing” an arrest means the record will not show up on most criminal background checks.

Under PC 851.87, a person can have his arrest record sealed as a matter of right when:

  1. criminal charges were filed but later dismissed,
  2. the defendant was found “not guilty” (acquitted) in a jury trial,
  3. the defendant's conviction was vacated or overturned on appeal, or
  4. the defendant successfully completed a pretrial diversion or pre-sentencing program, such as Penal Code 1000 deferred entry of judgment.7

An exception to sealing an arrest record as a matter of right is when the person arrested has a history of arrests and/or convictions for:

It typically takes about ninety days after filing a petition to get a court order to seal an arrest record in California.

Arrest records, police reports, and court records that are sealed under this section shall not be disclosed to any person or entity except:

  • the person whose arrest was sealed, or
  • a criminal justice agency (which may use the information to the same extent as if the arrest had not been sealed).9

Improper release of a sealed arrest can be punished by a civil penalty of between $500 and $2,500 per violation. The penalty may be enforced by a city attorney, district attorney, or the Attorney General.

The person affected may also have the right to bring a lawsuit for compensatory damages or possibly even punitive damages (if the release was reckless or intentional).


Legal References:

  1. California Penal Code 851.8 PC. PC 851.8(a)

  2. See same.

  3. See same.

  4. See same.

  5. See same.

  6. See same.

  7. California Penal Code 851.87 PC.

  8. See same.

  9. Penal Code 851.92(b)(2)(B)(6) PC.

Free attorney consultations...

The attorneys at Shouse Law Group bring more than 100 years collective experience fighting for individuals. We're ready to fight for you. Call us 24 hours a day, 365 days a year at 855-LAW-FIRM for a free case evaluation.

Regain peace of mind...

Shouse Law Defense Group has multiple locations throughout California. Click Office Locations to find out which office is right for you.

Office Locations

Shouse Law Group has multiple locations all across California, Nevada, and Colorado. Click Office Locations to find out which office is right for you.

Call us 24/7 (855) 396-0370