Under California criminal law, an individual may withdraw a plea of guilty or nolo contendere (no contest) and enter a plea of not guilty once they have completed probation, or waited a year after a conviction for which no probation was ordered. This process is referred to as “expungement” or “dismissal” of the conviction. Expungement is also available to those who served time for their conviction in jail, but not for those who served in state prison. Only a judge may grant an expungement.
On January 1, 2015, California Assembly Bill 2396 (“AB 2396”) became effective and added language to Business and Professions Code section 480. Among other things, AB 2396 provides that the California Department of Consumer Affairs cannot deny an individual a professional license solely because of a conviction, if that conviction has been expunged.
AB 2396 applies only to licenses that are regulated by the Department of Consumer Affairs. This includes the California Board of Registered Nursing, Dental Board, Board of Pharmacy, Physical Therapy Board, Physician Assistant Board, Psychology Board, Board of Behavioral Sciences, Board of Accountancy, and Bureau of Real Estate. Some licenses that are not regulated by the Department of Consumer Affairs – and thus will not be benefitted by AB 2396 – include those issued by the Department of Insurance and the Department of Social Services. Additionally, AB 2396 does not affect medical licenses, as they are governed by laws that specifically provide that expunged convictions can serve as the basis for the Medical Board of California’s denial of an application.
There are some other notable limitations on the relief that AB 2396 provides. For one, federal criminal convictions cannot be expunged, and so they will not qualify for relief. In addition, under the provisions added by AB 2396, out-of-state convictions will not qualify, even if expunged in that state’s court.
Furthermore, the conduct that formed the basis of a conviction (even if expunged) may independently provide a basis for denial. As an example, a Board of Registered Nursing applicant with a drunk driving conviction may be denied a license, even if that conviction was expunged, because drunk driving may independently fall under the category of “unprofessional conduct.” Similarly, a Bureau of Real Estate applicant with a shoplifting conviction, even if expunged, may be denied licensure under the relevant licensing laws that permit denial on the basis of “dishonest conduct.”
AB 2396 is welcome relief to many applicants whose expunged conviction once had a detrimental effect on their ability to make a livelihood in California. If you are a student or applicant and you have a conviction on your record, contact our office to see how AB 2396 may benefit you.