UPDATE 2/23: Removal from the Registry (below)
Original Submission 2/9: Last month, I received my Certificate or Rehabilitation, thus ending my duty to register and bringing to a conclusion a decade filled with challenges and a sense of utter hopelessness and despair.
When this all began, I asked myself repeatedly, “How am I ever going to get out of this?” At my first ACSOL meeting (before it was called ACSOL), the dim feeling of hope I felt that day was still overshadowed by this vague and ominous sense of doubt.
A few years would pass before I reached out to Janice to inquire about filing for CoR. But any renewed hope I had was immediately extinguished when she mentioned that 290 registrants with felony convictions were ineligible for the certificate.
It wasn’t until a friend of mine referred an attorney who is associated with ACSOL and whose relative, unfortunately, was convicted of a 290 case. So as a result this attorney developed a certain expertise with these laws. After discussing my case with him, hope was restored once again. He assured me that, under the relatively new 290.5, I was now eligible for a CoR. He added that the public defender’s office has had “reasonable success” with getting their clients certificates. I was still skeptical, given what I had witnessed with public defenders and these cases.
So I first contacted private attorneys, some referred by friends or other reputable connections. What I found astonishing was that no two of them seemed to be on the same page. Some didn’t even return my calls or emails after the first phone conversation. When I met for a consultation with one attorney, a referral, he said, “These courts…” and then gave the thumbs down gesture, adding that my most viable option would be to seek a pardon from the governor, leaving me disheartened once again.
Having nothing to lose at that point, I decided to contact the downtown Los Angeles public defender’s office, who then referred their Certificate or Rehabilitation unit. After speaking to Rose, one of their senior paralegals, I felt encouraged, particularly when she mentioned their 90% to 95% success rate. Since their office receives a lot of filings, and they present only a few certificate cases every Thursday, the process would take several months. Rose said that I could get it done more quickly with a private attorney. So I told her that I’d think about it and get back to her.
I weighed all the pros and cons in my mind. These private attorneys appeared either incompetent, ill-informed and sometimes very expensive, with retainers ranging from about $900 to $15K. Then I thought about Rose’s unit, who does nothing but CoR’s. DTLA is the only court in all of L.A. County where certificates are handled. So it stood to reason that this public defender’s office knows that they’re doing. They know the D.A., they know that judge, and this is their sole area of focus. I thus decided to call Rose and file the petition with her office. If I were denied, I could always try again, perhaps retaining private counsel the second time around.
Thankfully, that wasn’t necessary. Rose, her fellow senior paralegal Maryam, and the unit’s attorney who handles certificate hearings, restored my faith in the public defender’s office.
So here’s what I learned in the process that I would like to share with you.
I had developed a mistrust of public defenders representing those prior to conviction, which I’m sure many of you can relate. I’ve seen some good ones, but I witnessed plenty of corruption.
Post-conviction, however, I have found the public defender’s office to be extremely helpful. Not sure exactly why. For whatever reason, it’s just a completely different world after conviction. My guess is that D.A.’s have more incentive to be aggressive when it comes to maintaining high conviction rates.
As per the written instructions I received from Rose, one of the steps I needed to take was to expunge my case at the court where I was sentenced. Attorneys and paralegals at free legal clinics where they help fill out expungement filings told me that an expungement wasn’t required to get a CoR. When I had that conversation with Janice about certificates, even she asked why I thought I needed to get one. After all, a dismissal still won’t relieve me from registering.
Well, this is what I learned. When I brought this up with Rose, she said that this is one of the things that the judge looks for. Remember, this unit specializes in only one thing, and they know that court more intimately than anyone else. So that point is not to be argued.
Secondly, it stands to reason that it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have the dismissal of your case on record going into the certificate hearing.
I was also able to have mugshots.com remove me from their site with just the expungement, free of charge! To me this is a very big deal as it is perhaps the most heavily visited mugshots site on the web. I can only assume that they’re playing nice these days now that the site’s owners themselves are facing criminal charges, not to mention countless civil suits.
DATE OF ELIGIBILITY
While the statute mentions that one is eligible 10 years after release from custody, Rose said that in her court it’s actually 10 years after the conviction date, which is about the time I filed.
CHARACTER REFERENCE LETTERS
You’ll be asked to submit with the filing a minimum of four letters from people you know. You’ll receive specific instructions as to what they should write on your behalf. They can be friends, colleagues, associates, etc., but they can’t be relatives.
Once submitted to the D.A., an investigator will call at least a couple of them without notice. They’ll ask your friend or colleague how long they’ve known you, how you met, etc. These investigators will often be former police officers who apply the same technique of questioning that they use on suspects or witnesses. They might, for instance, ask the same question twice to see if you’re telling the truth.
Whether you’re going for an expungement, a certificate or a governor’s pardon, I cannot stress enough how much it will help your cause by volunteering your time at charitable organizations. Mind you, some organizations will require background checks and will likely not admit you if you have a criminal record. But many of them do, especially ones that offer community service work for probationers. I’d recommend calling the organization to find out if they’ll accept you. I worked with two organizations and had them write letters on my behalf to include in both my filings for expungement and certificate.
I had a friend retain a private attorney for his CoR. This lawyer referred a forensic psychologist for my friend to see for a handful of sessions. On top of the $5K legal retainer, he had to pay an additional $2,500 for these counseling sessions. When I asked Rose whether or not I should do the same, she said that it’s rare that it’s ever needed for the filing and should only be done if the judge requests it. Again, I’m only speaking from my experience with the downtown L.A. court.
Once a certificate is granted the case is then submitted to the governor’s office to be considered for a pardon. Rose advised that I best contact his office in order to facilitate the process as it could otherwise take several years. For those who are ineligible for a CoR, you can submit such a request directly to his office. But with a CoR, your request carries more weight since it now has the approval of the judge behind it. We’ve been told that no California governor has ever granted a pardon for anyone convicted of a 290 case. But when I mentioned this to Rose, she said that such pardons may have been granted quietly.
For now, I’m just happy with the fact that I’m now removed from the registry. But to be honest, it hasn’t quite sunk in yet. My info is still up on the site and will likely take a few more weeks before it’s all removed. Perhaps then I will feel more liberated. When that friend I mentioned earlier received his certificate last year, I asked how he felt. He said that he still can’t believe it, even a year later. He’s still recovering from the unpleasant experiences he had to endure while he was still on the registry. There are times, for instance, when he gets a knock on the door, and he has to remind himself that it’s not the cops coming to check on him. It’s like a form of PTSD. While I would never compare myself to those who have dedicated themselves to serving our country, my friend and I feel as if he and I are much like brothers in arms who have just returned from war. You’re never the same after going through such a dark period, and we’re grateful that we have each other to share this with because nobody else would be able to relate, let alone sympathize with us.
I’m further unnerved after having learned that my penal code, 288.3, has been changed under the tiered registry statute. Originally it was classified as a Tier One offense. Now, from what I’ve been reading, most who are convicted of 288.3 will likely fall under Tier Three, with the possibility of being Tier Two or Tier One. I regarded the new law as a backup plan in case my certificate was denied. Now I feel that I have dodged a major bullet.
For those who are likewise 288.3 (or any other eligible penal code) and are at or beyond the 10 year mark, the time to act is NOW! Once 2021 arrives the new law will supersede the current one, which means that you will no longer be able to file for a CoR to remove yourself from the registry.
After now being given a new lease on life, and witnessing good people be treated so unjustly by this system, I cannot in good conscience just sit by and do nothing. I will do my best to help reform a system that has clearly caused tremendous damage to our humanity.
I’ll be back here and drop in on occasion. If you have any questions then I will do my best to answer them.
I wish you all the best.
UPDATE 2/23: Removal from the Registry
This is a follow-up to my post on February 9th detailing my experience during the Certificate of Rehabilitation process.
Well, after checking the registry every day after being granted my CoR, as of today (February 22, 2019) I am completely removed from the California Megan’s Law website as well as the national registry. I, of course, checked multiple times to make absolutely certain that I didn’t make a mistake. Until I saw myself removed I wasn’t going to take anything for granted, even if the judge at my hearing said I was relieved of my duty to register. But I can now say with certainty that I’m no longer registered, publicly or otherwise.
As far as time frame is concerned, while my friend’s info took about 5 weeks to be removed, mine took just a little over 3 weeks. Perhaps emailing them a scanned copy of my certificate helped expedite the removal.
I immediately emailed homefacts.com to order them to remove my photo and information and submit the removal to Google, since Homefacts is the one private site that makes it possible to find this information by simply searching my name. I should be removed from their site within the next day or so.
I also contacted arrestfacts.com to do the same, although they’re less visible than Homefacts.
Based on what I’ve observed with my friend when he did this last year, disappearing from Google, Bing and Yahoo searches could take a few months. Images of him were still found in searches, but they led to dead pages when you clicked on them. Eventually, these images no longer turned up in any of the search engines. I also had to clear the cache on my browsers so that the old images didn’t appear in the searches.
There are also services that, for a fee, will help clean up your info on private background check services. There are supposedly hundreds of background check sites online. As with everything else, please research these removal services thoroughly.
There is one piece of misinformation that the paralegal shared at with me at one of the legal clinics. A CoR does not do everything an expungement does and more. So the certificate is not as all inclusive as he suggested. Either will benefit you in different ways. This is why it’s recommended that you get both. Again, please consult with an attorney.
I will continue to check in and offer assistance in any way I can to those who need it.
NOTE: this was submitted as an anonymous user comment under the original CoR Post. We thought it deserved its own post – hopefully that is ok with the author. This is an original unedited and un-fact-checked user submission and not to be construed as legal advice. ***Moderator***