The presumption of innocence is the legal principle that a defendant who is accused of a crime is to be considered innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The presumption of innocence is not only foundational to the criminal justice system in the United States, but it’s also a part of the U.N.’s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.”

Under the presumption of innocence, the legal burden of proof is on the prosecution, which must gather and offer to a judge or a jury persuasive evidence of a defendant’s guilt. In most criminal cases, the prosecution must prove that the accused is guilty as charged beyond a reasonable doubt.

If any reasonable doubt remains, the defendant must be found not guilty. Of course, the presumption of innocence also makes practical sense as well. In any region as densely populated as southern California, the police are inevitably going to arrest plenty of people who turn out later to be innocent of any criminal behavior.

Sometimes in California, a person is arrested but no charge is ever filed or the charge is dismissed before a trial can take place. Whenever this happens, California law allows for that person to have the arrest record sealed and destroyed. The police reports, booking photos, and all records of the arrest effectively disappear. This does not happen automatically – you must have an attorney’s help.

Criminal records are retained indefinitely in this state unless a specific order is issued for their destruction. A Long Beach criminal defense attorney can file what is called a “motion for a finding of factual innocence and destruction of arrest records” on your behalf.

WHAT IS THE PROCESS FOR A FINDING OF FACTUAL INNOCENCE?

Like every other legal procedure in this state, the process of sealing and destroying arrest records can be quite tricky and complicated. If you were arrested but no criminal charge against you was ever filed, you must first file a petition with the law enforcement agency that made the arrest.

If a law enforcement agency believes that you were innocent, it will seal the record of the arrest for three years and then destroy it. If your petition is denied or if no response is made by that law enforcement agency within sixty days, a Long Beach criminal defense attorney can file a motion with the court on your behalf.

The motion for a finding of factual innocence and destruction of arrest records must be filed with the court that had or would have had jurisdiction. A copy of the motion must be served to the local district attorney, who may file an objection to the motion for a variety of reasons, and must also be served to the law enforcement agency that made the arrest and denied the petition, which may also file an objection.

A hearing will be scheduled, and if any objection has been filed, a judge will hear arguments from both sides. The petitioner’s attorney basically must prove that no reasonable cause existed to make the arrest.

If the judge grants the petitioner’s motion, all records of the arrest are destroyed and purged from all state of California databases. A finding of factual innocence is preferable to a simple dismissal of charges.

The arrest records from a dismissal of charges still exist somewhere and may resurface, for example, years later during an employment background check. A finding of factual innocence actually and completely eliminates any trace that an arrest was ever made.

WHY CAN A FINDING OF FACTUAL INNOCENCE BE IMPORTANT?

A finding of factual innocence can be extremely beneficial for persons seeking or pursuing professional careers in teaching, law enforcement, law, medicine, and a number of other professional fields. A finding of factual innocence and the destruction of the arrest record can also be quite helpful when the arrest was linked to alleged domestic violence. Domestic violence arrests can be an obstacle to purchasing firearms and to qualifying for professional licenses in California.

When someone applies for a job today, and especially in Southern California, having a perfectly clean criminal record, including a clean arrest record, can sometimes make the difference. If you are not certain about precisely what your criminal record says, you can obtain a copy from the California Department of Justice if you submit a completed application along with a fingerprint card and a $25 processing fee.

In Southern California, if you need to have an arrest record sealed and destroyed, you will want an experienced California criminal defense attorney to draft and argue the motion for a finding of factual innocence and destruction of arrest records on your behalf.

If a judge grants that motion, the court will order your arrest record sealed and destroyed, and all law enforcement agencies in the state will be ordered to destroy all of the records of your arrest. Then, if anyone asks, “Have ever been arrested?” you can legally answer “No.”

IS THERE A TIME LIMIT FOR SEALING AND DESTROYING ARREST RECORDS?

In most cases in California, you must begin the legal process to seal and destroy an arrest record within two years of the date of the arrest, although judges have the discretion to seal arrest records beyond that time limit if a petitioner can show sufficient cause. Still, you do not want to wait two years. Anyone who needs to have an arrest record sealed and destroyed in this state should have an experienced criminal defense attorney begin the legal process as early as possible.

If you have been arrested for any crime in California but you were never charged, or if you were charged with a crime but the charge was dismissed before a trial could commence, a finding a factual innocence is valuable because the court is not merely saying that there wasn’t enough evidence against you to move forward with a prosecution. A finding of factual innocence is the court’s strongest way of saying that you did not commit a criminal offense and that you should not even have been arrested.