By: Alec J. Sperduto, ICLS 2022 Summer Intern
Similar to many other areas of the law, the process of having a criminal record expunged can be nuanced and rather tricky to navigate on your own. Though the overall procedure isn’t terribly complicated, there can be some room for error because there are multiple ways to file for an expungement.
The “path” you would have to take depends on several factors such as the charged conviction, what your sentence was, and if you had any additional legal issues following your arrest. (See the attached chart for more details.)
The best place to start when trying to get a game plan together is by looking at a complete criminal history record, also known as a record of arrests and prosecutions or a RAP sheet.
What is a RAP sheet?
As the name suggests, a RAP, sheet is a list of every time you were arrested and details about the subsequent prosecution. Some of the information that can be found on this list includes: the name of the charge and the corresponding penal code section (the group of laws that defines each crime); the case number; where the arrest occurred; the sentence given; and the disposition, or final outcome. Most of this information overlaps with the factors that determine which “path” must be taken (as required by a specific penal code section) and thus what the requirements are.
Knowing the specific details of a conviction when petitioning for an expungement are crucial to increasing the likelihood of a successful expungement and reducing headaches during the process. Checking your RAP sheet will give you a “bird’s eye view” of all charges, including those that may slip your mind but can make a big difference in determining what forms should be completed and what, if any, documentation you should attach.
For example, under certain penal code sections a court is only required to grant a petition if you did not have any new convictions in the year after a judgment was entered. If there was a new conviction, all hope is not lost—the judge can grant the petition (but they are not required to) and additional supporting information (called a “declaration”) must be submitted. Without the declaration, the judge may (1) request the missing information or (2) deny the petition entirely; either way, you are not going to get what you were hoping for and the process will be delayed. This can be easily avoided by looking at your RAP sheet.
Since there are fees for filing the required forms with the courts, getting it right on the first try, will save not only time, but money as well. Though requesting your RAP sheet is not free, the benefits of doing so will likely outweigh the cost (to both your wallet and your stress) of having to resubmit your paperwork. (To determine if you are eligible for a fee waiver to reduce the cost, head to: Apply for a Fee Waiver | State of California – Department of Justice – Office of the Attorney General.)
During the process of requesting your RAP sheet, you will have to go to a Live Scan location that can take your fingerprints. This then goes to the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and the FBI to check their databases. In rare instances your RAP sheet might contain inaccurate information. This can be caused by technical issues, human error, or even identity theft. Similar to reviewing your credit report, carefully reviewing your RAP sheet to check for these mistakes can save you from potentially significant consequences in the future. If you do notice an error, you may dispute it using the form that was mailed to you with your RAP sheet.
If you are interested in criminal record expungement but are overwhelmed by it, rest assured that the staff at Inland Counties Legal Services will guide you through the process so that you can minimize the obstacles that a criminal record may be causing. We encourage you to request your RAP sheet as soon as possible so that we can hit the ground running.