SB 731 – California’s New Law on Conviction Sealing

It is estimated that at least 70 million people in the United States have a record of an arrest or conviction. In California alone, an estimated 8 million people have to live with a criminal record, and in 2018, an estimated 2.5 million Californians of working-age had a felony record. These figures have cost the state approximately $20 billion in gross domestic product annually.

In California, an individual’s criminal record is kept until a person reaches 100 years of age, even though most people with a criminal record had long paid their debt to society. The effects of a criminal record have always been enormous, but this is truer then ever in today’s world where the use of background checks is more widespread than ever. As a result, a quarter of the state’s population is facing numerous barriers to building and having a decent life. The presence of a criminal record prevents people from entering certain careers, obtaining housing, long-term employment, and participating fully in civic life. Most notably, the consequences of a criminal record have historically affected minority communities disproportionately and have been a leading driver of recidivism and perpetual poverty.

For years now, California has been at the forefront of Criminal Justice Reform and has been adopting numerous measures in an attempt to rectify the effects of the tough on crime policies of the past. As part of the ongoing efforts to reform that the California policymakers have embarked on, and recognizing the devastating consequences a criminal record can have on a person’s ability to reintegrate into society, they passed SB 731. Governor Newsom signed the bill into law on September 29, 2022, and the bill became effective on July 1, 2023.

Prior to SB 731 coming into effect, the state’s laws allowed for people to apply for expungement of certain misdemeanor and felony convictions. Not only was expungement limited in its application, but also, the conviction was not entirely erased from a person’s record. SB 731 is a landmark law that completely changes the approach to conviction sealing in California and is the most expansive conviction sealing law in the country.

Under SB 731, the California Department of Justice is required to review their databases on a monthly basis and clear all records of eligible individuals automatically. Eligibility varies depending on the type of arrest or conviction. Generally, all misdemeanor and felony charges that are dismissed have to be cleared immediately after dismissal. With regards to arrests and convictions, the automatic relief eligibility varies:

  • For misdemeanor arrests where no charges are brought, the automatic record clearance is one year after the arrest, whereas for felony arrests with no charges brought, three years after the arrest.
  • For misdemeanor convictions where probation is granted, a person is eligible for automatic record clearance immediately after completion of probation. And if no probation is granted, one year after completion of the case.
  • For felony convictions, where probation is granted, immediately after probation is completed. For all other non-violent, non-serious, non-registerable felony convictions, a person will be eligible to have their record automatically cleared 4 years after sentence completion, if there have been no additional felony convictions in the 4-year period.

Additionally, any individual with a felony conviction is eligible to discretionary relief and can petition the court to withdraw their plea and have their case dismissed after completion of their sentence and if certain other conditions are met. If the felony conviction resulted in a sentence to state prison, the relief is available only if the conviction did not result in a requirement to register as a sex offender.

Finally, it is worth noting that nothing in SB 731 restores an individual’s gun rights that were taken away due to a felony conviction or a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction. Despite SB 731, the only way to regain your rights to own or possess firearms is through a gubernatorial pardon. 

While under SB 731 most criminal records are supposed to be automatically cleared when they become eligible, there are still instances where a person will have to petition the court in order to have their record cleared. At the Justice Firm we fight zealously to protect our clients’ rights and we believe that everyone is entitled to have the opportunity to build a better future.

If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges or needs assistance with a post-conviction relief, our highly skilled and compassionate attorneys are here to help and to answer any questions you might have. You can contact the experienced California Criminal attorneys at the Justice Firm today for a case evaluation locally at (310) 914-2444 or at our Toll-Free number at (866) 695-6714, or click here.

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