Hey everyone, Tom here - and it's me actually writing the article for once! I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, but haven’t gotten around to it, my apologies. The truth of the matter is that once you do your classes, pay your fines, and live out your probation, your DUI goes away. It’s not hanging over your head, it’s not weighing on your shoulders, it’s not on the top of your mind all the time. For many of you going through it right now I know it doesn’t seem that way, but I promise you, it doesn’t.Before we get into things - let me just be clear and reference the Disclaimer on the site and reiterate - I am not a lawyer, I have no legal training, and none of this is legal advice. This is a story of how I did things… I didn't know what I was doing and I had a little bit of guidance. Still, I think it's important to tell the story of how I mostly did my own expungement to showcase how it can be done. A previous post "Guest Post: How Often are DUI cases expunged in California" helped me to think I could take on the task myself, and gave me reassurance that expungement could be granted.
Additionally, every county is going to be different - this will apply to Los Angeles county, however there should be information on your county's website about which forms are needed.
It had been over 3 years since my DUI and I wanted to move on with my life. I had learned a lot from the process, I had grown, I was in a different position in my life. But still, I was worried about it haunting me - I needed to move soon, and I was worried that my conviction would make any prospective landlord say no to me. I was worried that when I was applying to new jobs that I would have to disclose it and they would turn me down for the job. It’s a cruel way to live - I had “done the time”, I paid off every penny I owed, I had done everything they asked me to, not made a single mistake since, and still, I was under threat of being punished further, that my mistakes would hang over me for the rest of my life.
I wanted to move on.
Fortunately CA offers a chance for us to move past our mistakes. They don’t offer a “true” expungement (which would be clearing out the whole thing top to bottom) but they offer one that’s close enough to where it doesn’t matter - Your plea of “Guilty” or “No Contest” or finding of guilt is withdrawn, a please of “Not Guilty” is entered, and your case is dismissed and can no longer be used on background checks. It’s still in the system that you were arrested, but now any time you are asked about a conviction you can fill out “no” and be correct. It doesn’t apply to filing state certifications, the FBI file on you, Watson Murder Laws, you’re still prior-able for any further DUI you receive, it doesn’t apply to the DMV side of things, but… it’s something. In most cases it will be enough to make it so that your DUI doesn’t further hinder your life.
To be eligible you must have completed probation, and paid any fines and fees you owe to the state.
When first discussing representation with my attorneys back when this all started, a few tried to tempt me into hiring them by offering me a “discount” on a later expungement, or a motion to reduce probation. Even with this discount both were very expensive and I wasn’t in a great place financially. I had to find other options. Could I possibly do this myself? I started researching and started gathering the resources to get the process started.
Forms, lots of forms.
There’s a surprising amount of legal resources online provided by the government - The state has a guide where you can look up your conviction and see your eligibility, as well as guide you on how to expunge your record
. More importantly they also host the two forms that are needed - CR-180
- the petition for dismissal, and CR-181
- the judge’s order to dismiss. The first one I filled out my court information at the top, then indicated which type of infraction I was convicted under and that I had done my probation, if it was terminated early I would've checked the box for that - but mine wasn't so I didn't, and that I should be “granted relief in the interest of justice”. It’s a lofty term, it feels like you’re asking them to clear up your case because you intend to become some sort of supercop, but really you’re asking them to be fair to you - you did everything you had to, you’re not dealing with another case, let me free. The companion document, CR-181, is basically the same court information and then setting everything up for a judge to check a box based on their decision and sign it. It’s basically making things easier on them, which is always a good thing.
Then comes the declaration - I could've written it in the space on CR-180, but there's not a lot of room to create a compelling argument. I decided to use a little bit more space, and I could have used either form MC-031
or deleted the first page of this pleading paper
and written it according to legal practices - every line meeting up with a number on the side, numbering paragraphs, titling the document (on line 1), numbering the pages at the bottom above the footer (below line 28, and centered on the page) and filling in the information of what the document is at the bottom (Declaration in Support of Petition Under P.C. 1203.4, 1203.4a and/or P.C. 17(b)(3))
With the declaration I did what I’ve done this whole time - express remorse, regret, take responsibility for what I’ve done, and express how much better I've become, and how much I want to continue to be better. I wrote from the heart, writing about how awful this has been and how I never want to do it again. I let them know my pain, and how I absolutely never want to do this again. I also included how getting this expungement would help me achieve my goals in life and be a better person. It’s finally a chance for you to express all the things you’ve felt, all the please to God that you’ve made, with a chance that somebody will hear them, and help you. It feels good.
A Little Help
This is all a very technical process - and I didn’t know any of it. There’s a certain amount that you can do and learn on your own, but as with all of this process, it helps to get guidance from the professionals. There’s organizations dedicated to helping people get out from under the shadow of their conviction - namely Continuing Justice
however, I managed to find a lawyer on social media who was willing to give me a little guidance, and it helped a lot. I never would’ve known all the rules about a pleading document without them. If you get confused there’s plenty of non-profit resources that you can look into.
This is where things get a little bit tricky and technical. It’s one of those “this is a reason why lawyers and legal clerks have jobs” sort of thing. Doing this by mail required me to have a Proof of Service form with the documents - form POS-030
- with this I couldn't turn the documents in by dropping them off, it must be via mail. There’s an additional hitch to this - I couldn't serve the documents since I am involved in the case. I had to get somebody else involved - it could've been anybody who isn’t involved in the case - a spouse, parent, child, friend, priest, grocer, neighbor, stranger you met in the street, anybody who isn’t me. I went with a friend who had gone through a similar situation that I was comfortable talking about it, but I did consider just making a Craigslist post and seeing if somebody would do it for $5.
My information was at the top of the POS (the branch name will be the court where my case was), and I filled in what documents will be sent and the name and address of whoever is being served - which was going to be either be the DA’s office, the City Attorney office, or whichever other office prosecuted me (I didn't know), and my friend helping me filled in their name, address, date, and their signature.
Then I made two packets:
The first is for the court - I sent in (in this order) a CR-180, Declaration, CR-181, Proof of service, all paper clipped together. You're not supposed to staple them, I'm told they hate that. I also included a second CR-180, and declaration paper clipped together. I put the two paper clipped packets in an envelope and addressed it to the clerk’s office of the court that my case was in.
The second packet is for the prosecution - you have to let them know that you’re doing this, too. It was either the District Attorney or the City Attorney, I tried the DA first. Their packet was a CR-180, Declaration, and Proof of Service all paper clipped together. They only need one copy, so that was all I put in an envelope addressed to them.
Then I met with my friend who was serving (mailing) these papers, had them fill out their name, address, date, and signature on both Proofs of Service, and then signed and dated my CR-180 and my declaration. Sealed the envelopes, stamped them, and gave them to my friend to send off.
Trial and Error
Like everything, this isn’t the easiest process. There’s some unknowns. I initially sent mine to the District Attorney’s office and it came back with a letter saying the wrong party was served. I resubmitted the packet (still via my friend, but now with a new POS) to the City Attorney, and this time it took. Sometimes this is going to happen and even the lawyer who was advising me wasn’t able to tell who to submit to until it came back rejected. Don’t worry. It’s a common thing and it came back with a letter explaining why it was rejected. One of the very few times that the government was helpful during this whole ordeal.
Additionally, it was good to know that I didn't only have one chance to apply for an expungement. While expungement is somewhat common in DUI cases
, things happen and they can be rejected. If you get rejected they should tell you why, and you can always take another crack at it, you just have to wait six months.
After a few times of submitting, waiting, getting my forms back, having them bounce back and figure it all out I got a letter saying that everything was submitted and would be reviewed. A month later I got my judgement: The court granted my request and dismissed my case.
It was a long time coming but it was finally over - all the pain, all the money, all the hassle… I’d finally overcome it. It was an extremely joyous moment, one of the very few in this process.
It was all behind me. Officially.
From submitting the final accepted packet to getting my judgement was just about two months. Two months is all it took to be free.
The number one question that comes with an expungement - can you go to Canada? Because Canada has different DUI laws that make even the most minor DUI a felony, they’ve historically been strict on allowing DUI offenders into their country. However, now that I’m no longer convicted of a DUI, would I be ok to go?
I haven’t traveled myself, but every indication seems to be yes. There’s several anecdotal examples of people getting in, and this website
seems to suggest the same. They say it’s a good idea to have a copy of your dismissal paperwork with you, which isn’t a bad idea. Ultimately, still, it’s up to the border officer you encounter, but seems like most recognize a CA expungement. Canada focuses on convictions… with this expungement… you weren’t convicted. Just wait a little bit for the database to get updated.
AB 1076 was passed a little while back and has made a world of difference to a lot of people - it allows minor convictions to become automatically expunged after a certain amount of time. The reasoning makes a lot of sense - a lot of people don’t know they’re eligible for the expungement, plus the burden of the costs and research involved is unfair. Since this became law millions have already had their past convictions of shoplifting or other minor, non violent crimes be cleared from their record, allowing them to move on with their lives.
Will it work in your case? I’m not so sure.
First off, the law only applies to people who have been arrested after Jan 1st, 2021 - which means that most, if not all, people who received DUIs since then would still be on probation and not eligible for the automatic expungement yet.
The other problem is I’m not completely sure if DUIs are covered under the law. There’s part that’s carved out to call to the vehicle code, but I don’t quite understand it. Like I’ve always said, I’m not a lawyer. Researching this hasn’t lead me to any sort of definitive this will or this win’t expunge a DUI.
I often explain to people, like I did at the beginning of this post, that once you get to a certain point you don't think about your DUI, and it's almost as if it never happened… This is what I mean. Since the day I received the judgement, I've been free. I've certainly learned my lesson to never want to go through this whole ordeal again, but now I have a feeling that I've "made up" for what I did.
It can happen to you, too.