Expunging Criminal Records in California

It ain’t just for kids, after all. Anyone who’s eligible can petition to expunge a criminal conviction in California. Here’s what you need to know.

Like we explained last week, the term “expungement” is a misnomer because it doesn’t erase the conviction or wipe the slate clean. But that’s still how lawyers and judges will refer to it. Technically, it’s called a dismissal under Penal Code section 1203.4 or other such section. So you’re still going to have a rap sheet, in other words.

But it will add a line item to your rap sheet that shows the case was dismissed. If you had pleaded guilty before, the court will permit you to withdraw your plea. If you were convicted at trial, the court will set aside that verdict. Either way, the court will then dismiss the case.

In most situations, that means you can legally and truthfully say that you don’t have a conviction. That can help on a job application, for example, though the rule is different for public employers like law-enforcement agencies. In all situations, you can at least say that the conviction was dismissed, because it was.

Most employers aren’t even supposed to ask about convictions that have been dismissed, and they’re not supposed to rely on them in their decision-making. The exceptions include public employers like law-enforcement agencies.

Most licensing boards, on the other hand, can ask about them, and you should answer by disclosing both the conviction and the dismissal. They’re not supposed to deny a license basely solely on a conviction that has been expunged or dismissed.

You’re eligible to expunge a felony or misdemeanor if you were sentenced to probation or the county jail. If you successfully completed probation or had it terminated early then you are entitled to the dismissal. If you didn’t then you can still win if you can persuade the court of your rehabilitation. If you went to county jail on a felony then you’re eligible one or two years after the end of your sentence; it depends on whether you served a split sentence that included post-release supervision (one year) or a full sentence in jail (two years). Or, if you didn’t get probation on a misdemeanor then you’re eligible if it’s been over a year since you were sentenced, and you’ve completed that sentence and otherwise done well.

You’re not eligible if you were sentenced to state prison, unless you would go to county jail for the same offense today or the court suspended the execution of your prison sentence and put you on probation instead. You’re also not eligible for certain sex offenses involving minors, including child pornography or statutory rape if you were 21 or older and the minor was younger than sixteen.

So how do you do it? Here’s a guide from the official website of the California courts that can help you do it yourself. But you should check your own county’s rules and forms, too. Here’s the link for Orange County, for example. Or, if you can afford it, get a lawyer. He or she will navigate the process for you and help you put your best foot forward. Plus, you may not ever have to go to court yourself.

The CURES For What Ails You

Speaking of prescription drugs, almost every state now has a prescription-drug monitoring program (or PDMP). The goal is to curb prescription-drug abuse by discouraging pill-pushing and doctor-shopping. So whether you’re a patient or provider, you should pay attention because law enforcement and licensing boards are watching.

In California, for example, the program is called CURES: the Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System. By law, pharmacies must report to CURES every prescription for a Schedule II, III, or IV drug within seven days of dispensing it. And pretty soon, under a law passed last year, doctors will be required to check CURES before prescribing such drugs to a patient for the first time and every four months after that during treatment.

Last week, the California Supreme Court ruled that the California Medical Board could freely access CURES at any time. It didn’t need to get a warrant or show good cause beforehand. The doctor who was being investigated argued that this violated the privacy of his patients. But the Court held that, on balance, the Board’s access was justified by the need to protect the public from drug abuse and protect patients from impaired or negligent doctors.

Even if your state’s law is different, remember that federal law remains supreme. Last month, a federal court decided a case in which the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) subpoenaed data from Oregon’s PDMP. Unlike California’s program, Oregon required all agencies—even federal ones—to get a court order before it would respond to a subpoena. It sued to compel the DEA to comply with its law, but it lost. Federal law authorizes the DEA to issue subpoenas on its own, so Oregon couldn’t force it to follow state law.

The Restoration of Rights Project

Have you ever been arrested? Do you have a prior conviction?

Do you wonder whether you can clean up your record and how that affects you, if at all?

Start here. It’s called the Restoration of Rights Project, and it looks at the law in every state for restoring your rights and status after an arrest or conviction. It covers federal law, too.

For each state, the Project compiles answers to these questions:

  1. Whether and how you can seal, expunge, or dismiss your arrest or conviction.
  2. Whether and how you can restore your civil rights, like the right to vote.
  3. Whether and how your state’s laws affect your chance of landing a job or license, losing one, or getting it back.
  4. Whether your state has a regular process to apply for a pardon and how often it grants one.
  5. Whether and how you can stop having to register as a sex offender.

It’s a great resource not just for lawyers and the courts but for, in its words, “the millions of Americans with a criminal record who are seeking to put their past behind them.”

When Medicare Says You Can’t Sit With Us

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued new regulations on its power to exclude healthcare providers and suppliers from participation in a federal healthcare program. The agency excludes some 3,500 people or entities per year. You’ll want to avoid being one of them.

Here are some important takeaways.

The agency is empowered to cast a wider net. It may exclude not just the providers and suppliers who submit claims or receive payments but any person or entity that furnishes items or services for which others request or receive payment.

You can be excluded if you’re convicted of interfering with an audit. The agency doesn’t define the term “audit” for this purpose. Before, you had to have obstructed a criminal investigation, not just an audit or the like. The new rule also makes changes to the factors that extend or reduce the presumptive three-year exclusion under this provision.

You can be excluded for not providing information to support a claim even if you didn’t furnish the items or services in question. You can be excluded if you referred the items or services to others to furnish or certified that they were needed.

The agency has ten years to exclude you for false claims or illegal kickbacks. This timeframe follows the outer ten-year statute of limitations for violations of the False Claims Act. Before, there was theoretically no limit on how far back the agency could look to exclude you under these provisions.

The rule makes several changes to the aggravating and mitigating factors that extend or reduce the length of exclusions. Most of these changes affect the dollar-loss thresholds. For example, it’s now aggravating if the government’s loss amounts to $50,000 or more, when it used to be $15,000. And it’s mitigating if the loss is less than $5,000 when it used to be $1,500. Or, for excessive or unnecessary billing, it’s aggravating if the loss is $15,000 or more when that threshold used to be $1,500. Also, in most cases, it’s no longer mitigating if you provide access to care that’s otherwise not available in your area. Instead, the agency will consider that in deciding whether to exclude you rather than for how long.

You may be eligible for early reinstatement. You can request it if you were excluded because your professional license was revoked, suspended, or surrendered in a disciplinary investigation. There’s a presumption against it for the first three years that you’re excluded or for the length of your suspension or revocation, whichever is longer. There’s no such presumption if you’re still licensed in a different state or by a different licensing authority or if you were able to get a new license after full disclosure. But you’re not eligible at all if you lost your license because of patient abuse or neglect.

CMS Puts Out New Physician Self-Referral Disclosure Protocol

If you’re a healthcare provider or supplier, take note.

Starting June 1, 2017, there is a new process for self-reporting actual or potential violations of the Stark Law to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Remember, Stark says that doctors can’t refer certain, designated health services that are payable by Medicare or Medicaid to entities in which they have a financial interest. The same goes if an immediate family member is the one with the financial interest. The entity that receives the referral can’t bill for those services, either. But exceptions apply.

Why in the world would you self-report? Well, if there is discretion to keep you in the program, your cooperation will go a long way. You’ll pay less in penalties. You’ll reduce or eliminate your liability for not reporting and returning the overpayments sooner. And you’ll probably put the matter behind you more quickly than if the government gets wind of it.

Now, there’s a new way to do it. Up to this point, you would submit your self-disclosure to CMS by letter. From June 1, you must submit a packet of forms and enclosures that you certify. You should submit all information necessary for the agency to analyze the actual or potential violation. You may also submit a cover letter with additional, relevant information.

You’re well-advised not to do any of this without appropriate counsel.

The new protocol doesn’t apply to non-Stark-related disclosures of potential fraud, waste, or abuse involving a federal healthcare program.

So if you wish to disclose actual or potential violations of other laws like the Anti-Kickback Statute, you should use a separate process for it.

After you talk to your lawyer.

 

SEC Lights Up Another Cannabis Company

In what may be a sign of maturity for the industry, the Securities and Exchange Commission has sued another marijuana-related business for violating federal securities laws.

Last month, the SEC charged a California-based company and two former executives with a classic pump-and-dump scheme. First, the Commission says, the defendants touted phony revenue to drive up the price of the company’s stock. Then they unloaded their own shares for millions of dollars. According to the complaint, much of the revenue came from a series of sham transactions with a shell company that the executives controlled. So the SEC charged them with fraud as well as offering and selling unregistered securities.

The company and one of the executives have settled the case without admitting or denying liability. The executive agreed to pay more than $12 million, among other penalties.

Meanwhile, the company has turned over a new leaf, so to speak, overhauling its management, business model, and board of directors.

The SEC will continue to scrutinize the market, however, which highlights something cannabis companies should already know: get your ducks in a row, and run your business the right way.

Puff and pass if you want, but don’t pump and dump.

The Right of Refusal in California DUI Cases

If you’re arrested for driving under the influence, and you’re asked to submit to a breath or blood test, remember that you still have a third choice.

You can refuse to submit to such testing and face the consequences. What are those?

  • You may lose your license for one-to-three years depending on your driving history;
  • You’ll have to pay a fine;
  • You’ll serve mandatory jail time if you’re convicted; and
  • Your refusal can be used against you at trial as evidence of your guilt.

You may not like your options, but you’ve still got a right to refuse, and if a police officer wants to deprive you of that right, he or she must get a warrant.

Take this recent case, for example. A woman was stopped on suspicion of driving under the influence. The police officer asked her to blow into a breathalyzer, saying it was optional (which is true). She declined. He then arrested her and asked her to choose between a breath and blood test. He told her that she was required to choose one or the other, but he didn’t explain the consequences of refusing like he was supposed to. That made it seem like she couldn’t refuse (which isn’t true). So she chose the blood test. After she got charged, she moved to suppress the results on the ground that her consent wasn’t free and voluntary because the officer made it seem like she couldn’t refuse. But the trial court denied it.

On appeal, the court ruled that the trial court should have suppressed the test results. Because the officer didn’t have a warrant, the search and seizure was illegal unless it was based on an exception to the warrant requirement (like consent). In this case, however, the woman’s consent wasn’t free and voluntary because the officer didn’t correctly explain the law. He told her that she had to take a test under California’s implied-consent law (which is true). But he didn’t advise her of the consequences for refusing. That made it seem like she couldn’t say no, which meant there was no actual consent.

As the court explained, it’s no different than if the police came to your home and claimed to have a warrant but then argued that you consented to their search by opening your door. That’s not a valid consent because you had no right to resist their authority, anyway. So if it turns out they didn’t actually have a warrant then their whole search would be illegal, and they couldn’t rescue their case by relying on your consent.

When It Rains, It Pours

Here’s another case that blurs the line between civil and criminal laws.

It started as a civil dispute between a homeowner and contractor. The homeowner hired the contractor to paint her house and install ten windows. Six months later, he had painted her house and installed eight-and-a-half windows, but no one was happy. He wanted $8,000 more to finish the work, but she’d already paid him $61,000 and refused to pay more.

The contractor sued for the $8,000 balance, but he had a problem: apparently, he didn’t actually have a contractor’s license. Or he couldn’t produce a valid one, anyway.

He may not have realized that, in California, an unlicensed contractor can’t sue for a breach of contract no matter how good a job he may have done. Not only that but he can be sued for every penny that he was paid even if he did great work. Which is what happened here. The homeowner lawyered up and countersued for the $61,000 that she had paid him.

Then his luck got worse.

Because he couldn’t produce a contractor’s license, he was charged criminally with six misdemeanor counts of contracting without a license. Yes, it’s a crime, too. He pleaded no contest to one count, and the other six were dismissed. He was put on probation and ordered to pay restitution as part of it.

At the restitution hearing, the government demanded that he pay back the entire $61,000 that the homeowner had paid him plus her attorneys’ fees. He testified that he did the work right and that she owed him $8,000. She testified that he didn’t do it right because some of the paint had faded, chipped, bubbled, and peeled in the three years since. He argued that any damage was due to natural weathering because the house was so close to the ocean, and he called an expert who testified to that.

The trial court sided with the contractor, but on appeal, he was ordered to pay back everything, including her attorneys’ fees.

Why?  The law was clear that he didn’t have a right to the money no matter how well he performed, so legally, she never should’ve had to pay for his work in the first place.

Wasn’t this a criminal case, not a civil one? Yes, but the civil rule applied to criminal restitution.

Wasn’t this an unfair windfall for the homeowner? Perhaps.

But that’s the way the cookie crumbled.

Update: On August 22, 2017, a higher appeals court reversed this decision. It held that the civil rule doesn’t apply to criminal restitution, which is limited to a victim’s actual economic loss. And with that, all is right in the world again.

California’s Next Gold Rush Is Green

Last week, California legalized recreational marijuana. So did Maine, Nevada, and Massachusetts, and four other states passed medical-marijuana laws: Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota.

It marked the end of prohibition as we know it, which didn’t work for alcohol and doesn’t work for pot. Too many millions of people enjoy it responsibly or know others who do, and it’s safer than alcohol or tobacco. As a much-beloved sportscaster used to say, the game’s now in the refrigerator; the door’s closed, the light’s out, the eggs are cooling, the butter’s getting hard, and the Jell-O is a-jigglin’. Hopefully, Uncle Sam does the right thing, too.

Through Proposition 64, California voters enacted the Control, Regulate, and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act of 2016. It’s called the Adult Use of Marijuana Act for short. For a deep dive on the issues, see the state’s official voter guide to the election. It’s a big file, but a summary of Prop 64 starts on page 90, and the full text follows on page 178.

What do you need to know right now? These six things.

It legalized recreational marijuana for adults age 21 or older. You may now grow up to six plants on your property, and you may buy or possess up to 28.5 grams of cannabis, which is an ounce, or eight grams of concentrated cannabis.

It taxes the sale and cultivation of marijuana. It imposes an excise tax of 15% on retailers, on top of existing state and local sales taxes, as well as a cultivation tax on growers of $9.25 per ounce of flower and $2.75 per ounce of leaf. It will generate billions of dollars in tax revenue in the coming years, and it will save millions of dollars in costs to law enforcement.

It imposes standards on the testing, labeling, packaging, and marketing of marijuana. It prohibits marketing to minors, and it bars shops from operating within 600 feet of a school, daycare center, or youth center unless the local government approves. It also bars them from selling alcohol or tobacco.

It continues to punish those who use, grow, or sell outside the rules. It’s a misdemeanor to have more than 28.5 grams, grow more than six plants, or sell without a license. It’s punishable by up to six months in county jail, a $500 fine, or both, and you’re subject to large civil monetary penalties for each day you’re in business. Or you could face a felony based on your criminal history, your selling to or employing underage people, or the environmental impact of your unlicensed grow. Separate penalties continue to apply to minors and people age 18 to 21. Finally, you can’t use pot on the road, in a public place (except for shops that allow it), or anywhere that you can’t use tobacco.

It allows people to petition to clear their records. If you’re currently serving or have ever served a sentence for an eligible marijuana offense, you can petition the court to reduce your conviction and sentence or dismiss your case entirely. The court will presume that you’re entitled to this relief unless prosecutors prove by clear and convincing evidence that you’re not. If they can’t, the court will grant your petition unless it finds that doing so would endanger public safety. Many counties have already prepared to process these petitions.

The state will tax, license, and regulate marijuana businesses, and it will issue its first licenses by January 1, 2018. Cities and counties may further tax or regulate the industry or just ban it outright (but not ban its transportation through their jurisdiction). The main state agencies are as follows:

  • The Bureau of Marijuana Control (formerly the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation): to license and regulate retailers, distributors, and testing facilities
  • The Department of Food and Agriculture: to license and regulate growers
  • The Department of Public Health: to license and regulate edibles
  • The Department of Fish and Wildlife: to regulate the environmental impacts of growing
  • The State Water Resources Control Board: to regulate the environmental impacts of growing on water quality
  • The Department of Pesticide Regulation: to regulate the use of pesticides in growing
  • The Marijuana Control Appeals Panel: to hear appeals from people and businesses affected by an agency’s decision

Reduce Your California Felony Conviction to a Misdemeanor

Can you do that? Yes, you can. Look up Penal Code Section 17(b) if you don’t believe us. You can also reduce certain felonies to misdemeanors under Proposition 47, and we wrote about that previously here.

Under Section 17(b), you can even reduce your felony to a misdemeanor long after you’ve served out your sentence. If you haven’t considered it, you should. If you’re currently facing felony charges then you can try reducing them at your preliminary hearing or at sentencing, but you should talk to your lawyer about that.

Once you reduce your felony to a misdemeanor, it’s considered a misdemeanor from that point on (with some exceptions). Then you can legally and truthfully say that you have not been convicted of a felony when you go about your business or apply for loans, housing, employment, or professional licenses or credentials (again, with exceptions). One big exception? It won’t relieve you from having to register as a sex offender.

To be eligible, you must meet two criteria. First, your felony must have been a wobbler, meaning it could’ve been charged as a felony or misdemeanor. If you were convicted of a straight felony then you’re out of luck. Second, the court must have put you on probation but without actually imposing a felony sentence. This is important, too. It’s not enough if the court imposed a sentence but suspended its execution in favor of probation; it must not have imposed a felony sentence at all. So if you were sentenced on the felony then you’re out of luck even if the court suspended its execution and put you on probation.

Bottom line: You are eligible if you were convicted of a felony that could’ve been charged as a misdemeanor and the court put you on probation without imposing a felony sentence.

How will a court decide your motion? By analyzing the same factors that guide other sentencing decisions. These include the facts of the case; the nature of the offense; your personal history and characteristics; and how well you did or have done on probation.

 

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