how long does misdemeanor stay on your record?

The focus of this discussion is about criminal records in Los Angeles County. A common question involves the length of time a misdemeanor adult conviction remains "on your record."

In Los Angeles Superior Courts (LASC) of California, misdemeanor convictions are entered into their local records system. If the convicted person was "booked" (photographed and fingerprinted) at the time of arrest, or thereafter, the LASC is required to notify California Department of Justice (DOJ) in Sacramento. DOJ maintains case history records for arrests within the state. While obligations exist for the courts and DOJ to maintain these records, it is not uncommon for either agency to inadvertently "miss" an entry into a government system. Thus, it is not unusual to see a California DOJ record which describes the initial arrest, but fails to document the final case result, which may be a dismissal.

Records entered into the LASC and DOJ systems are not "purged" by virtue of a set period of time elapsing from the date of conviction. DOJ keeps some old records in a "manual" form, which is sometimes noted in their computer system, as well. Newer case entries are maintained in the DOJ computer system.

While LASC may purge misdemeanor files 10-20 years after judgment, case docket "history" will remain for decades, on either microfilm, or in the automated computer system, which has maintained criminal conviction records since 1986. LASC maintains these records in the event a problem is revealed with a case in the future, so a basic evaluation about a case may be made.

Misdemeanor case records are also maintained in many private records systems, most commonly kept for background checks by potential employers. These records are collected from a variety of sources, and are often found to be incorrect (either lacking complete information or containing mistakes). Unfortunately, once a mistake occurs in the record-keeping process, the problem generally perpetuates itself many times over in the future.

For purposes of Los Angeles criminal cases, official government records generally remain in place, unless the records are:

1. Destroyed

2. Removed/purged by order of a judge (for example, Penal Code section 851.8 requires criminal records "removed" if a person is found to be factually innocent).

How do you know what is on your criminal record?

Criminal records in Los Angeles are usually considered a public record. Thus, you can go to the LASC Clerk's Office (Criminal Case Window), and request copies of case records. There is a nominal charge for each page provided to you by the clerk. If the case is older than 1986 and the Clerk's Office does not have an automated record, you will likely need to make the record request at "Archives." The LASC clerk can provide you the specific "Archive" location where your records may be located. Archive records may take several days to obtain. In some cases, there will be no record of a misdemeanor conviction at the LASC. You can also research your criminal records at DOJ by contacting their Records Division, as well.

What are your best options to minimize a Los Angeles County misdemeanor conviction on your record?

Substantial California law limits the use of criminal cases when a convicted person is seeking employment. One way to minimize problems with a conviction in this setting is to seek an expungement pursuant to Penal Code section 1203.4. While this process does not seal or remove the conviction from your record, an expunged case will reflect that the conviction was set aside, and dismissed pursuant to the expungement process. And employers are severely limited in basing a decision not to hire you based on the expunged case. 

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