Expungement: How to Clear Your Criminal Record

Having a criminal record can affect your ability to be hired for certain jobs or obtain a promotion for a job you already hold. You may not qualify for a loan or clear a background check when you apply to rent or lease an apartments. Many people also want to have their criminal record expunged to limit public view and the embarrassment it can cause. The following are the answers to the most frequently asked questions about expungement of past crimes.

Expungement is the process that allows one to “remove from general review” the records pertaining to a criminal case. While the general public cannot view your records, they may still be available to law enforcement. Each state offers its own definition of how expungement is applied and is based on different rules and laws.

What records can be expunged?

The law differs between states as to what records can be expunged. In general, any record on file within any court, detention facility, law enforcement agency that concerns a person’s detection, apprehension, arrest, detention, trial or disposition of an offense within the criminal justice system can be expunged. Some states do not offer expungement, instead they have a process called “vacating a criminal record.” A list of expungement laws for every state is available in our Law Guide.

Can juvenile records expunged?

In almost every state laws have been enacted to allow or even require the expungement of juvenile records once the juvenile reaches the age of an adult. Some states require that the records be destroyed. Others will simply have them sealed. The thought behind expunging juvenile records is so that juveniles may enter a more mature adulthood with a “clean slate.” This allows them to be shielded from the consequences of having a criminal record for the crimes they may have committed before adulthood and while not completely mature.

Who can get their court record expunged?

Each state has its own guidelines regarding who is eligible to have their record expunged. Most states have certain conditions that must be met to determine eligibility. These can include meeting such conditions as:

  • A predetermined minimum length of time has passed since arrest;
  • Having no intervening arrests;
  • Proceedings were dismissed and charges were dropped;
  • Acquittal of all charges;
  • There was a discharge without conviction and no charges were re-filed;
  • No formal charges were filed;
  • Juvenile records having been expunged.

Is expungement ever denied?

Each state sets it own standards and expungement can be denied, frequently for the following reasons:

  • The time period required by law has not been met (it usually does not begin until all confinement and probation has been completed and fines are paid);
  • Additional convictions exist;
  • A previous expungement exits;
  • Pending arrest(s);
  • Conviction of a sexual offense, e.g. child molestation;
  • Registered sex offender;
  • Court records indicate that the case is still open;
  • Crimes committed while serving in government positions.

Once my record is expunged, do I still have to state that I have a record for it?

Since sealing or expungement of your records allows you to truthfully state that you do not have a criminal record to the general public, you do not have to say you have one in most cases. However, the federal government does not have to honor the expungement. In addition, there are times where you may apply for a public office or a professional license where you will still are required to disclose your record. Some states maintain separate registries for people who have been convicted of child abuse or sex offenses. Expungement of your criminal record may not affect those registries and your record may still be viewable by the public.

If my record has been sealed, can it ever be unsealed?

Sometimes a previously sealed record can be unsealed but that would only happen under certain specific conditions that are predetermined by the state.

Do records ever get “automatically” expunged?

No. The person who wants to have their record expunged must petition the court for it and follow established procedures.

How do you get your record expunged?

In order to have an item on your criminal record expunged, you need to petition the court in the jurisdiction where the criminal conviction occurred. You may wish to contact the court clerk, a public defender in the jurisdiction, or hire an attorney where you were sentenced and get advice on how to expunge your record. There will be a filing fee imposed by the court and certain forms must be filled out and filed with the court in the appropriate jurisdiction. For more information on the process of expungement and how to clear your criminal record, you can seek the legal counsel of an expungement lawyer in your area and also review the expungement law of your state, available on this site.

What are the benefits of having my criminal record expunged?

There are certain benefits to having your criminal record expunged.

  • Protection and restoration of your reputation;
  • You will be able to qualify for a better job;
  • You will be able to apply for a state license (You cannot deny your past criminal offenses when applying for a state license -  but expungement does show the board of licensing that you have learned from your mistake and are committed to becoming a better person);
  • You will be able to join professional organizations that perform background checks;
  • You will be able to potentially qualify and receive student loans;
  • You will have a better chance of being able to rent or lease an apartment or house – most landlords will not rent to persons convicted of crimes and will perform background checks.

Michael M Wechsler, Esq.

Michael M. Wechsler is an experienced attorney, founder of TheLaw.com and of-counsel to Kaplan, Williams & Graffeo, LLC. He was also an SVP and chief Internet strategist at Zedge.net and legal consultant at Kroll Ontrack, a leading service e-discovery and computer forensics service provider.

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