Sealing and Destroying Adult Arrest Records

Penal Code Section 851.8

For innocent persons wrongfully arrested, adult arrest records can be sealed and destroyed under Penal Code section 851.8. If your petition is granted, the entire record is destroyed, like fingerprints, arrest report, or booking reports. The process of having records destroyed is a difficult and complicated process.

  • Eligibility
  • Timing
  • Process

Eligibility for Adult Records: Who is eligible to have the arrest records sealed and destroyed?

To seal and destroy your adult record, you must make your petition to each individual arrest. You are eligible to petition if:  

  1. You were arrested, but no charges were filed;

  2. You had your case dismissed (unless your case was dismissed pursuant to Penal Code section 1203.4); OR

  3. If you were acquitted by a jury.

Timing: When can I petition to have my arrest records sealed and destroyed?

A person can apply to have her arrest record sealed and destroyed up two years after your arrest or filing of accusatory pleading, whichever is later. If a person wishes to petition after this period, good cause for sealing your record is required.

Process: What is the process of petitioning to have my records sealed and destroyed?

The process of petitioning to have your records sealed and destroyed is either a one step or two step process depending on whether charges were brought against you.

If charges were brought, but your case was dismissed or you were acquitted, the first step is to petition to the court. The defense has the burden of showing that you are factually innocent. That means, no reasonable cause exists to believe you committed the offense for which you were arrested. It is important to note that in making this determination, the judge is allowed to consider almost all the evidence. Because of this, evidence that is not be admissible at trial will still be considered for your petition if it is material, relevant, and reliable. This means that a judge will often get to consider more evidence than a jury who acquitted you if your case went to trial.

If arrested, but no charges were filed, your first step is to petition a law enforcement agency. If the agency believes you were factually innocent, they will seal arrest record for three years and then destroy them. If they do not find you factually innocent, or do not respond to the petition within sixty days, you must file your petition with the court.