Sealing Arrest Records PC 851.91

Mistakes happen. But your past does not have to follow you for the rest of your life. Under some circumstances, you may be able to seal your arrest records from public view under Penal Code 851.91. 

Every year, hundreds of thousands of Californians are arrested for a variety of criminal charges. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, law enforcement agencies in the state reported 781,000 arrests in 2022 alone. In many of these cases, the District Attorney’s office never files criminal charges, and in thousands of others, charges are filed but later dismissed by the prosecution. And there are also many of those whose cases go through the court system but they are never convicted.

Persons with arrest records can face a multitude of obstacles in their lives when trying to find employment and a place to live, even if they were arrested many years ago. What you need to realize is that if you fail to take certain steps, the details of your arrest will likely remain a permanent record and could haunt you for the rest of your life.

Fortunately, California law allows eligible individuals to seal their arrest records. At Gressley & Donaldson, our criminal defense attorneys help people whose criminal records are causing significant problems in their lives to break free from the past. We assist clients with the process of sealing arrest records under PC 851.91 to obtain a clean slate and improve their chances in life.

Have you been arrested but never convicted of a crime? Do not let your past mistakes determine your future and prevent you from living the life you want. Contact Gressley & Donaldson to find a fresh start in life.

Define Sealing an Arrest Record in California Penal Code 851.91 PC

California Penal Code PC 851.91 allows eligible individuals to petition the court asking it to seal their arrest records. You may qualify for sealing arrest records under PC 851.91 if:

  • you were never charged with a crime after your arrest;
  • the prosecutor dropped the case and your charges were dismissed;
  • you were acquitted (found not guilty in a jury trial); or
  • you were found guilty but the conviction was vacated or overturned on appeal.

Once your arrest record is sealed, it will be as if the arrest never happened as the sealed records will not show up publicly on background checks.

  • Note: With the passage of Senate Bill 731, also known as The Clean Slate Act, arrest records are automatically cleared from a person’s criminal record through “automatic relief.” Under this legislation, which became effective on July 1, 2023, misdemeanor and felony arrests are sealed after one year and three years, respectively, if there are no charges. If the case is dismissed, the records are cleared immediately.

What Is the CARE Act?

In 2017, the California Legislature passed Senate Bill 393 or the Consumer Arrest Record Equity Act.  (hence the name “CARE”). The legislation, which took effect on January 1, 2018, changed the existing language in several subsections of PC 851 and added 851.91 and 851.92. The changes have made it easier to seal an individual’s arrest records if they were never convicted of a crime after the arrest.

According to the official website of the Judicial Branch of California, sealed arrest records are not available to the public. In other words, the record of such an arrest will not return any match on a background check unless the request is made by a member of law enforcement. Once an arrest is sealed, it is treated as if it never happened, which means you can answer “no” when asked “Have you ever been arrested?” by potential employers, landlords, and others.

  • Note: Even if your arrest records are sealed, the U.S. Department of Justice, law enforcement, and some government agencies will still have access to these records.

Sealed arrest records are not completely erased in the eyes of the law. In other words, even if you successfully seal arrest records under PC 851.91, they would still be used against you when you are charged with and prosecuted for new offenses. In addition, would still be obligated to disclose details of your arrest when applying for a law enforcement position or seeking to hold public office.

Who Is Eligible to Get Their Arrest Record Sealed?

Under PC 851.91, you are eligible to seal your arrest records if the following conditions are met:

  1. No conviction. If you were arrested but never convicted, you may be able to ask the court to seal your arrest record. This can happen if criminal charges were never filed against you, you were found not guilty in a jury trial, or you were charged but the charges were subsequently dismissed or dropped.
  2. No criminal charges are pending. There must be no criminal charges pending against you if you wish to seal your arrest record. It means that there should not be an open criminal case associated with the arrest.
  3. Charges can no longer be filed. You may be eligible to get your arrest record sealed once the statute of limitations on each offense upon which your arrest was based has expired and no charges were filed. The statute of limitations for most misdemeanor offenses in California is one year, while felonies have a longer, three-year limit.

Do note, however, that not all arrests are eligible for record sealing under PC 851.91. For example, if you are arrested on one charge but then subsequent

Who Is Not Eligible to Get Their Arrest Record Sealed?

You are not eligible to petition the court to get your arrest record sealed under PC 851.91 if any of the following is true:

  • You were arrested for a crime that has no statute of limitations, such as murder, forcible rape, treason, and certain others unless you were acquitted or found innocent in a trial;
  • The reason you were charged was because you evaded law enforcement;
  • The statute of limitations for the crime has not expired yet and the charges related to the arrest were not dismissed or dropped;
  • You have been charged with identity fraud for attempting to evade prosecution; or
  • You have (a) at least two convictions or (b) five or more arrests for domestic abuse, elder abuse, or child abuse within a three-year period.

If you have been convicted of the crime you were arrested for, you will not be eligible to have your arrest record sealed under PC 851.91. However, you may be eligible for an expungement under PC 1203.4. Discuss your options with our lawyer at Gressley & Donaldson to know how to best proceed in your situation.

What Are the Benefits of Getting an Arrest Record Sealed?

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Any criminal record, including records related to your arrest, is a public record. It means that anyone can access this information, including your potential employers and landlords. Job applicants with a criminal record are typically less likely to receive an offer of employment than their counterparts with no criminal record. This can severely limit your employment opportunities if you have an arrest record. The same can be said about housing, as landlords tend to prefer applicants with no criminal record. 

The benefits of getting your arrest record sealed cannot be overstated, as a clean criminal record expands your career options and opens the door to desired housing options. In addition, having no criminal record may help you obtain professional licenses, get accepted into college, join the military, and qualify for loans. Once your arrest record is sealed, the records of the arrest, police reports, court records, as well as booking pictures and fingerprints will no longer be publicly available.

What Is the Process for Sealing Your Arrest Records? 

Before filing a petition with the court to seal your arrest records, you might want to contact a lawyer who would offer you their legal perspectives on how to proceed. A lawyer will guide you through the process of sealing your arrest record under PC 851.91.

To initiate the process, you must fill out form CR-409 (Petition to Seal Arrest and Related Records) and file it with the court in the city where you were arrested. The petition asks you to provide information such as:

  • The petitioner’s information (your full name, date of birth, address, telephone and the name of your lawyer, if you have one);
  • The date of the arrest;
  • The location where the arrest occurred;
  • The name of the law enforcement agency that arrested you;
  • The arrest report number;
  • The offenses for which you were arrested;
  • The charges that were filed, if any; and
  • A statement that you are entitled to have your arrest record sealed under PC 851.91.

After the prosecuting agency is served with a copy of your petition, it will have 60 days after the service date to request a hearing and challenge your petition. Then, your case will move on to a hearing where the judge will review the case and decide whether the “interests of justice” would be served by sealing your arrest records.

  • Note: If you have multiple arrest records that you want to be sealed, you will need to file separate petitions for each arrest as one petition applies to only one arrest.

Sealing Arrest Records PC 851.91 Frequently Asked Questions

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In this FAQ section, we want to address some of the most frequently asked questions about sealing arrest records under PC 851.91. If you need further guidance, schedule a personalized consultation with our lawyer at Gressley & Donaldson.

  • What is the difference between sealing your arrest record under PC 851.91 and a petition for factual innocence under PC 851.8?

When you file a petition for factual innocence and your petition is granted, all records related to your arrest will be sealed and destroyed. Once all records of your arrest, including police reports and booking pictures, are destroyed, there will be no evidence that the arrest ever happened. By contrast, if you file a petition to seal your arrest records and your petition is granted, your records will be sealed but not destroyed. However, if the records were sealed, you can still treat your arrest as if it never happened and honestly answer “no” if anyone asks you whether you have ever been arrested for a crime.

  • What is the difference between expungement and sealing your records in California?

When a criminal record is expunged, all traces of it vanish. Sealing a record is different because it merely hides the record from public view, as law enforcement and some government agencies will still be able to access your sealed records. Another difference between expungements and sealing records is that an individual requesting the latter must not have been convicted of the crime. Expungement, on the other hand, is available to those who were convicted and wish to have their case dismissed.

  • Can you seal your juvenile record through PC 851.91?

No. The process for sealing juvenile arrest records is different from the process of sealing adult arrest records under PC 851.91. Those who wish to seal their juvenile arrest record must follow the process under California Welfare and Institutions Code § 781.

  • How long will the process of sealing your arrest record take?

The process of sealing your arrest record under 851.91 can take anywhere from two to four months after you file your petition.

  • How long do arrests stay on your record in California?

In California, arrests remain on your record for the rest of your life unless you get the record expunged or sealed. According to the official website of the Department of Justice (DOJ) in the State of California, the DOJ maintains criminal history, including arrest records, until the subject becomes 100 years of age.

Gressley & Donaldson: Skilled Sealing Arrest Records Lawyer

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The process for sealing your arrest record under PC 851.91 can be complicated and may require the assistance of a knowledgeable lawyer. Our team at Gressley & Donaldson can review the facts surrounding your arrest and determine your eligibility for record sealing.

We believe that everyone deserves a fresh start. Our lawyers are committed to helping our clients get the best possible outcome available under the law. Contact our office today to schedule a case evaluation and take your first step toward unlocking a brighter future.

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We understand that being accused of a crime is one of the most challenging times of your life. Rely on us to advocate for your rights and to give you the defense you deserve.