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Sealing An Arrest Record in California 
- Penal Code §851.91 -

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Sealing A Record of Arrest - PC 851.91

Sealing a record of arrest in California refers to a legal process that allows individuals to restrict public access to certain records related to a prior arrest. Sealing a record of arrest is codified under California Penal Code Section 851.91 (a.k.a. PC 851.91).


The ability to seal a record of arrest is primarily for cases where no conviction occurred or for specified eligible offenses. While sealing a record doesn't erase it entirely, it limits who can view the information and can have several beneficial effects when it comes to privacy, employment, and housing.

It's important to note that not all arrest records are eligible for sealing in California. Eligibility criteria typically include cases where no conviction resulted from the arrest, certain low-level offenses, or when a conviction was later overturned or dismissed.


The process of sealing a record of arrest under PC 851.91 requires filing a petition with the court and demonstrating that the person arrested meets the specific requirements of the law. Consulting an attorney experienced in California's record sealing laws at JPLaw, P.C. is always advisable to determine your eligibility and assist in navigating the process effectively.

1.  What are the benefits of sealing a criminal arrest record? 

Sealing a criminal arrest record pursuant to PC 851.91 offers many benefits to individuals seeking to limit the harmful effects of having an arrest listed on their criminal record. These benefits may include:

  • Improved Employment Prospects: Access to a record of arrest that has been sealed under PC 851.91 is limited by law to the person who was arrested and criminal justice agencies. Thus, a record that is sealed is less likely to appear on background checks conducted by potential employers, increasing your chances of securing a job and advancing in your career.

  • Enhanced Housing Opportunities: Like employers, landlords and property management companies often request background checks for those looking to rent or lease property. Sealing an arrest under 851.91 will limit access to sealed records, which can make it easier to find suitable housing and rental properties. 


An experienced lawyer can explain all of the potential benefits of sealing your arrest records in more detail. 

  • Increased Privacy: Sealing your arrest record can also helps protect your personal information and reduce the likelihood of the general public, including friends and acquaintances, discovering the details of your arrest. It can also prevent loss of reputation by reducing the chances of others in the community from discovering your arrest.

The specific benefits of sealing an arrest record can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the circumstances of the arrest. The eligibility criteria and procedures for record sealing may also differ by location. Therefore, consulting with an attorney who is knowledgeable and experienced in criminal record relief in your jurisdiction is always advisable.

2.  What is the difference between an expungement and sealing a criminal record?

In California, both sealing and expunging a criminal record are legal processes that aim to limit public access to your criminal history, but they differ in their outcomes and eligibility criteria.  One of the key differences between a petition to seal an arrest under PC 851.91 and a petition for expungement pursuant to PC 1203.4 relates to whether the individual was convicted of a crime.


In order to be eligible to seal an arrest under PC 851.91, the individual requesting relief cannot have suffered a conviction.  In other words, the person requesting to have their arrest records sealed must not have pleaded guilty or been found guilty after a trial. Conversely, an expungement is available to those who have suffered a conviction but wish to enter a plea of not guilty and have the case dismissed.


Moreover, unlike sealing a record of arrest, an expungement doesn’t limit the public’s access to the records; people will still be able to access the records of the case.  Rather, the primary benefit of an expungement is the ability to lawfully say that you have never been convicted of a crime.

3.  Who is eligible to have their record sealed under PC 851.91? 

Penal Code Section 851.91 in California allows individuals to have their arrest records sealed if they meet specific eligibility criteria. To be eligible for record sealing under Penal Code Section 851.91, you must meet the following conditions:

  • No Conviction: You were arrested, but no criminal charges were filed against you in connection with that arrest. This means you were not formally charged with a crime, or if you were charged, the charges were subsequently dropped, dismissed, or you were acquitted in court.

  • No Charges Pending: There should be no criminal charges pending against you related to the arrest you want to seal. In other words, you should not have an open case associated with that arrest, regardless of whether the charges you were arrested for differ from those that were eventually filed in court.

  • Charges Cannot Be Filed: Ordinarily, to be eligible to seal an arrest, the statute of limitations has to have lapsed on every offense upon which the arrest was based and the prosecuting attorney has not filed an accusatory pleading. The statute of limitations for most misdemeanors is 1 year and the statute of limitations for most felonies is 3 years.

Remember, not all arrests are eligible for sealing under Penal Code Section 851.91. For example, if you were arrested but subsequently convicted of a different offense not related to the arrest, you might not be eligible. Additionally, if you have other arrests or convictions on your record, those records may not be eligible for sealing under this specific provision.

4.  Is the court required to grant all petitions to seal records?

No, a court is not always required to grant a petition to seal a record of arrest under PC 851.91.  Although under most circumstances a petitioner is entitled to criminal record relief if they meet the criteria described above, there are exceptions to the general rule.


A person who’s record demonstrated a pattern of domestic violence, child abuse, or elder abuse may only have those records sealed upon showing that doing so would be in the interest of justice. A “pattern” means two or more convictions, or five or more arrests, for separate offenses occurring on separate occasions within three years from at least one of the other convictions or arrests.

5.  Why hire a lawyer to seal your record?

Hiring a lawyer to seal your record of arrest in California can be highly beneficial for several reasons.  Lawyers are well-versed in California's complex legal procedures and can navigate the intricacies of record sealing with precision and accuracy, reducing the risk of errors that could result in your petition being denied.


Lawyers are also experienced in drafting and preparing the necessary legal documents, including petitions and supporting evidence, to present the strongest case for sealing your record of arrest.  Moreover, if your petition to seal your record requires a court appearance or hearing, an attorney can represent you effectively, argue on your behalf, and address any potential objections from the prosecution or other parties.


Lastly, while hiring a lawyer may cost money, doing so can save you the headache and stress of going through the process alone. The potential long-term benefits and the increased likelihood of successfully sealing your record often make hiring a lawyer a wise investment.

Contact An Orange County Criminal Defense Lawyer 

Unlock a brighter future by taking the first step towards cleaning your criminal record with JPLaw, P.C. Speak to an experienced legal professional that can help you navigate the complex process of sealing your record in Orange County, Los Angeles County, Riverside County, and San Diego County.


Don't let past mistakes hinder your opportunities for employment, housing, and a fresh start in life. Contact us today to schedule a FREE consultation and discover how we can tailor a personalized legal strategy to help clean your record, paving the way for a brighter tomorrow. Your second chance is just a phone call away!


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JPLaw, P.C.

Orange County Law Office

Old Town Orange Office

410 N Clark St.
Orange, CA 92868

Phone: (949) 991-7057

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