When Governor Brown signed Assembly Bill 2396 in September of 2014, which went into effect the first day of this year, certain licensing boards were no longer able to deny applications based on expunged convictions. While this may seem like a big win for license defense attorneys, it says a lot about the effect of expungements on one’s record, and how misleading the word “expunge” really is.

People think of expunging a record and automatically assume the conviction is gone forever and they can proceed as if the event never occurred. However, that is far from the truth.

Even after the passage of the bill, many licensing agencies can still inquire about past convictions, whether they were expunged or not. Further, some can still reject an applicant based on the expunged conviction. Even more alarming, is that those agencies affected by this bill can still use an expunged conviction to bolster their case against a defendant if they have another independent grounds for denial, such as a past adverse action or failure to disclose a conviction to the board.

Expunging a record is highly beneficial in a lot of ways. A convicted person can legally say he has not been convicted of a crime, aiding him in getting a job. Also, many professional organizations look more favorably on a conviction that has been expunged as compared to those that still stand. There is a certain level of personal pride that comes with Expungement, as well, including a sense of relief and redemption, and closure from a past mistake. Expungement can also help in some immigration cases, preventing the immigrant from suffering the mandatory removal of immigration benefits.

Perhaps the most important benefit of an expunged conviction, in regards to licensing, is that although the board may still ask about an expunged conviction or even use it to deny an application for a license, it is still more favorable than a conviction. Once a conviction is expunged, licensing boards see it as a form of rehabilitation, using it as an indicator that the defendant has completed the process for expunging his record and probation. The Board may even condition the granting of a license on a current conviction being expunged in some cases.

Despite the reputation for expungements as erasers of all criminal history, they do not completely save the day. However, they do have hefty benefits, and those seeking licensure in California are much better off going through the process.

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