Automatic Expungements? Not So Fast.

On January 1, 2021, California Assembly Bill 1076 became law. The bill is entitled, “Criminal records: automatic relief.” The common perception of this bill is that the prior process of petitioning the court for expungement of a criminal case is no longer required; that expungements are simply automatic now. As one may intuitively understand: how could this practically be possible? Any skepticism of this new law actually working, and working quickly, would be well substantiated.

Although the law does create a new avenue for automatic relief, it does so relying upon the Department of Justice to do a sweep of statewide criminal justice databases to “identify persons who are eligible for relief.” After persons are identified, the Department must then submit a notice to the superior court having jurisdiction over the case informing them that relief was granted. Putting the reliance of the Department’s efficacy and rolling out this process aside, the bill also authorizes the prosecuting attorney or probation department file a petition to prohibit the department from granting automatic relief. These databases that are being searched are home to hundreds of thousands of criminal cases that are eligible for relief.

What does all of this add up to? A lot of red tape. The procedures outlined in Penal Code Section 1203.4 are still good law. If you are eligible for an expungement and want your relief granted as soon as possible, it is still best to hire an attorney to get the job done quickly and efficiently.