Is It Possible To Destroy My Arrest Record In California?

Being arrested on criminal charges can be a challenging ordeal, particularly when the individual is not actually guilty of the crime in question. However, despite the person's innocence, he or she will nevertheless have an arrest record — a record that will hang over the person's head until he or she does something about it.

Fortunately, however, California law expressly permits a wrongfully arrested individual to petition to have his or her arrest record both sealed and destroyed — but only in certain situations.

The Process Of Sealing And Destroying Arrest Records

First off, it is important to note that the process of sealing and destroying criminal arrest records is different from the process of seeking an expungement of criminal records in California.

For instance, while an expungement is typically sought following an actual criminal conviction — and essentially dismisses the criminal accusations — the sealing and destruction of an arrest record only applies in two distinct circumstances, which are:

  • When an individual is arrested, but no criminal charges or accusatory pleadings are ever filed by the prosecutor
  • When an individual is arrested and charges are filed, but no conviction actually occurs, either because the case is dismissed or because the individual is acquitted through a jury trial

If charges are not actually filed following an arrest, an individual can directly petition the arresting law enforcement agency to seal the arrest record, but only if he or she can convince the police that he or she is factually innocent of the crime initially arrested for. Basically, factually innocent means there is no reasonable cause to believe the individual committed the offense for which he or she was arrested in first place.

If the arresting law enforcement agency denies the request to seal and destroy the record, or fails to respond to the request within 60 days, the wrongfully arrested individual can then petition the court.

Similarly, if the prosecution did file charges, but no conviction occurred due to a dismissal or acquittal, the individual must file his or her petition to seal and destroy the arrest record directly with the court and not the law enforcement agency. Importantly, the court will use the same factually innocent standard.

If the petition is ultimately successful — either before the police or the court — the arresting law enforcement agency will be ordered to seal the arrest record for a period of three years, after which time the record shall be destroyed. This includes the destruction of all police reports, fingerprints and booking photos related to the wrongful arrest.

Legal Assistance May Be Necessary

Ultimately, the process related to sealing and destroying an arrest record can be quite complicated in California, which is why it is often best to seek the counsel of an experienced attorney if considering this course of action. Moreover, even if you believe you may not be able to seal and/or destroy your criminal record because you were actually convicted of an alleged crime, it is important not to give up as other options may still be available to help clear your record, such as expungement. In any case, a knowledgeable attorney can help explain your rights and options.