Filing a Petition for Factual Innocence in California
Have you ever been arrested for a crime that you did not commit? Unfortunately, this happens all too often in Los Angeles, CA. As police ramp up efforts to reduce crime, innocent people can easily get caught up in the legal system for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Many times, innocent people will not be charged with a crime because the prosecution lacks evidence to support a criminal case. In other cases, charges may be filed but eventually dismissed for the same reason.
In any event, if you are arrested there will be some formal record. Arrest records can be searched by the public and may show up on background checks. This means that even if you were innocent of the crime, the fact that you are arrested could haunt you in the future. In California, you can have this arrest record erased if you can prove that you were factually innocent.
What is Factual Innocence?
Factual innocence means that you are innocent of any wrongdoing or criminal act. When you file a petition for factual innocence under Penal Code 851.8 PC, you must be able to prove that “no reasonable cause exists to believe that [you] committed the offense for which the arrest was made.”
When you file a petition for factual innocence you have the burden of proving that the arrest was made without cause. You can satisfy your burden by providing evidence that helps to prove your innocence. Evidence that may be helpful in proving your factual innocence can include:
- Witness testimony proving that you were not at the location of the crime when it was allegedly committed (otherwise known as an alibi);
- Cell phone records; and
- DNA or other forensic evidence that excludes you as a possible suspect.
If, based on your evidence, the court believes that there was no reasonable cause to arrest you for the crime, the burden shifts to the state. The state will then be required to prove that they did have reasonable cause to arrest you. The court, after hearing both sides, will make a determination as to whether or not your arrest was appropriate.
When Can I Argue Factual Innocence?
There are generally four scenarios in which you could argue factual innocence:
- You have been detained by police for questioning, but not formally arrested for a crime;
- You have been arrested, but never formally charged with a crime;
- You were formally charged with a crime, but the charges were later dropped; or
- You were formally charged with and tried for a crime, but were not convicted.
A petition for factual innocence must be filed within two years of your arrest.
Why Should I File a Petition for Factual Innocence?
Any kind of criminal record can make it difficult to accomplish normal life activities. An arrest record is no different. When you apply for a job, submit an application for a new apartment, request a mortgage loan, or try to enroll in school you may be required to undergo a formal background check. When the employer/landlord/bank/school runs the check, public records of your arrest will show up. This could make an employer/landlord/bank/school think twice before approving your application.
You could also face other limitations, depending on the type of crime for which you were arrested. An arrest for a crime of domestic violence could limit your ability to purchase or own guns. In some cases, an arrest could require you to forfeit a professional license.
When you are arrested and/or charged with a crime that you did not commit, the record of that arrest can still have serious non-criminal consequences. Even if your record is expunged, the record of your arrest will still be publically available. If you were wrongfully arrested for a crime you did not commit your best bet is to take advantage of California’s factual innocence law.
What Happens if the Petition for Factual Innocence is Granted?
If a court believes that there was no reasonable cause for your arrest it will grant your petition for factual innocence. When your petition is granted, the police department and Department of Justice will be required to seal and destroy all records related to your arrest and any subsequent criminal proceedings.
For the first three years after you have established your factual innocence, law enforcement agencies will be required to seal the following information:
- Arrest reports;
- Booking information;
- Court records; and
Once this three year period has expired, law enforcement agencies will be required to physically destroy these records.
How Can I File a Petition for Factual Innocence?
If you have been wrongfully arrested for a crime in California you should speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney. The petition for factual innocence can be complicated, and it is important that you make a strong case for destroying any records related to your wrongful arrest. Hiring an attorney to handle your petition is the best way to achieve the best possible outcome. It is important to remember that petitions should be filed within two years of a wrongful arrest. This means that the sooner you contact an attorney, the sooner we can get a court to exonerate you. Contact our office today to learn more.