How to Expunge Your Criminal Record
For many people, having a criminal arrest and/or conviction record can create unwanted and negative consequences long after a person’s debt to society has been paid. A record does not even have to reflect an actual conviction to also do damage to a person’s reputation. As background checks and the availability of technology make it easier than ever to access the complete history of a person, any type of legal record can cause issues for everything related to applying for a job, to trying to rent an apartment, buying a car, and in many other instances.
How powerful is expungement? If a person convicted of a crime that falls under the purview of a state’s expungement laws and they successfully expunge that record, then if they are asked on a job, rental or mortgage application if they have ever been arrested or convicted of a criminal offense, they can honestly answer “no.”
Recognizing that these types of records may do an inordinate amount of unintended damage to a person’s life, every state has enacted some form of criminal record expungement. Expungement is the process of sealing or destroying court records, meaning that the record is no longer available to be accessed and a person no longer needs to reveal the details surrounding the incident to which the record pertains. Each state administers their own form of expungement, and criteria and the application of expungement laws will vary from state to state. Some states may use terms such as “removal,” “destruction,” or “expunction” of records, but the overall effect is essentially the same.
Expungement Definitions and Types
The true definition of expungement means that records are actually physically destroyed. This ensures that they cannot be accessed in any way, shape or form. However, some states do not allow for the physical destruction of records. In those states, records are instead sealed. It should be noted that many times the terms “expungement” and “sealed” are used interchangeably, but that is not the case.
If records are only sealed, then in some cases, state law may allow for them to be opened under very specific cases. Sometimes this may be when law enforcement personnel are investigating a case or if a person is arrested or facing conviction of a serious crime at a later date. If your state only seals records, it may be in your best interests to investigate further the circumstances that may lead to the unsealing of a legal record.
One of the most powerful forms of expungement is a Certificate of Actual Innocence. These can be issued if a person is charged with a crime, but those charges are later dropped, or the defendant is found not guilty after going through a trial. Obtaining a certificate counteracts any possibility that a record may be unsealed and cause issues for a person at any point in the future. It basically proves that a legal record should have never existed at all in any form.
Another possible avenue for someone who has been convicted and seeking expungement is to obtain proof of rehabilitation. This proof can stand on its own or be used as part of the petition. It provides evidentiary proof that a person has taken the necessary steps to live a life of exemplary conduct, taking steps to be proactive in correcting any past possible wrongs they may have committed. This includes demonstrated remorse and full payment of any restitution due to victims.
Expungement may also take the form of a pardon from state law enforcement officials. A pardon does not erase the crime you committed, but it does provide an official notice that you have been forgiven for that crime. You will still need to disclose information about past criminal activity when required, but a pardon will offset the impact of that record to some degree.
How Can You Benefit from Record Expungement?
The single biggest benefit of a successful expungement is that you can truthfully and legally say you were never arrested, accused or charged with a crime. It is as if the entire incident never happened and restores you to your state in life before you were ever arrested, charged or convicted.
When you apply for a job, or if you are already working for an employer, they are not allowed to ask about an expunged conviction. It cannot be used against you in any employment decision either. An expunged conviction will also not show up in most all employer background checks as well.
Because you can legally answer “no” on job applications regarding whether or not you have a criminal history, you can become eligible to apply for better jobs that pay more, increasing your earning capacity and lot in life.
In addition, many landlords not only run credit checks, but criminal background checks as well. After an expungement, no activity will pop up, meaning you won’t be denied from living where you want to live. The same also applies when making an application for a mortgage or a credit card in some cases as well.
Eligibility Guidelines for Record Expungement
Expungement and related actions regarding court records are handled at a state level, so each state will have different guidelines, processes and procedures. However, there are some aspects of expungement that are common in most all states:
Eligibility. In all cases, to be eligible for consideration of having records expunged, a person will need to meet several criteria. Those criteria may include:
- The types of crimes and infractions eligible for expungement must be within the approved guidelines of a particular state’s laws.
- Criminal proceedings were either dismissed, the defendant was found not guilty or they were acquitted after a trial. A few states do allow for the expungement of records if a person has been convicted.
- The person was actually released before formal criminal charges were filed.
- The person has met all waiting periods, which vary by state, before seeking to petition the court for expungement.
- There are no new pending charges or offenses against the person seeking expungement.
- Any fines or restitution required to be paid as part of a case have been paid in full.
- Any diversion programs, education programs, community service requirements and probation have been completed.
Minors vs. adults. Most states treat the expungement of records for minors differently than they do for adults. In some states, the expungement of records for minors is even mandatory. Many states also seal records of minors automatically and immediately. The premise is to not have a youthful offender suffer the consequences of a legal record follow them around into adulthood, negatively impacting them for an extended period of time.
The process. With few exceptions, and if all conditions are met, the expungement process will typically start by filing an application or a petition for an expungement.
You will need to include several documents with the petition, which may include:
- Certificate of eligibility (from your state’s probation department)
- Acceptance of service
- Consent and waiver of hearing
- Prosecutor and victim statements
- Victim checklist
- Petitioner’s reply
- Findings of fact and conclusions of law
You will work with your state’s probation department to prepare a report that the court will use to determine whether or not you are eligible for expungement. A prosecutor may challenge the expungement by filing an objection before your expungement hearing. The court will review the probation department’s report that will indicate how a person has behaved since their legal issue, looking to see if it was an isolated incident. If this is shown to be the case, then there’s a good chance the expungement will be granted.
Possible reasons for denial. While reasons may vary from state to state, some things that may cause an expungement petition to be denied may include:
- The petitioner has not met the necessary time requirement/waiting period, all fines have not been paid, or terms of probation have not been met.
- Court records indicate the case is still open.
- If a case took place in a federal court, it cannot be expunged. Federal crimes are not eligible.
- The petitioner has a pending arrest or has been convicted of another offense.
- The type of crime that is being petitioned is not eligible. Generally, the more serious the offense, the less likely it is that it will qualify. Very few felonies can be expunged and crimes of a sexual nature are also very limited as well.
What does expunged mean?
“Expunged” means “erased or removed completely.” In legal terms, expungement is the court process by which a criminal record is destroyed or sealed.
Expungement proceedings almost always take place at the state level. There is no federal law governing expungements. Each state, however, has its own qualifications and procedures for expungement, usually requiring a waiting period and a low level of severity to the offense.
Once expungement is granted, states differ in whether they will seal or destroy the record. A sealed record may remain available to a law enforcement agency, but unavailable to the public. If a record is destroyed, all relevant documentation is removed from the state court system.
How to get a felony expunged.
Many states allow for some felony convictions to be expunged. Serious felonies--including sexual offences such as rape or child pornography, or other violent crimes--are almost never eligible for expungement.
Generally, a petition for expungement must be filed with the court that convicted you of the felony. Forms are often available online through each state’s government website, but the guidance of a qualified expungement lawyer may be a good investment. The process can be lengthy and sometimes complicated, more so with felonies than with misdemeanors. Ultimately, it is up to the judge to decide whether expungement is granted.
How to get a misdemeanor expunged.
A misdemeanor is generally defined as a less serious crime that is punishable by a monetary fine, court-ordered community service, and/or less than one year in jail. The likelihood of clearing a misdemeanor from your record will vary from state to state.
Less serious misdemeanors, especially if they are a first offense, are not usually too hard to clear. Generally all it takes is filling out the proper paperwork (check with the court in which the conviction occurred), and possibly making a court appearance.
More serious misdemeanors, however, can be closer in nature to felony crimes. These misdemeanors (for example some DUI’s, theft, or assault), are known as “wobblers” and can be treated either like a felony or a misdemeanor. Many of these “wobblers” are ineligible for expungement.
How can a DUI be expunged?
Some states prohibit any expungement of DUI convictions. Most states that do consider expungement for a DUI require that the DUI sentence must have involved probation only, no jail time. In addition, all provisions of the DUI probation must have been fulfilled, and there cannot be any other criminal charges pending.
A DUI case affects not only your criminal record, but your driving record as well. The criminal case is separate from the administrative or civil case. Expungement does not apply to your driving record, and will not affect a license restriction or other matters handled by the Department of Motor Vehicles or equivalent state agency. An attorney experienced in both DUI arrests and expungement might be able to help you clean up both your criminal and your driving record.
I’d like to do a criminal history check. Where do I search my criminal history?
The most reliable place to obtain a full criminal history is from the FBI. For a fee (currently $18), the FBI will provide you with your full Identity History Summary (AKA your criminal history record or “rap sheet”). This summary will include all fingerprint submissions and related data reported to the FBI by state and local law enforcement agencies. Citations and fines may or may not appear depending on whether they were reported to the federal authorities.
If the fingerprint submissions are related to an arrest, the Identity History Summary includes the name of the law enforcement agency that submitted the fingerprints to the FBI, the date of the arrest, the arrest charge, and the disposition of the arrest, if known.
Only you may request a copy of your own Identity History Summary. The process is outlined on the FBI website in detail. You must fill out an application form, obtain a set of your fingerprints (this service is usually offered at your local law enforcement agency), pay the fee, and mail in the required documents to the FBI CJIS Division. Current processing time is 12-14 weeks.
Another option is to submit your request through an FBI-Approved Channeler. This is a private business that has contracted with the FBI to submit your request on your behalf. An FBI-approved Channeler receives the fingerprint submission and relevant data, collects the associated fee(s), electronically forwards everything to the CJIS Division, and gets the Identity History Summary back to you. An FBI-approved Channeler simply helps expedite the delivery of the Identity History Summary. Additional fees may apply above the FBI fee. Contact each Channeler for costs, processing times, and availability in your area.
Where can I obtain a free criminal history report? Does it vary by state?
A quick Google search will turn up dozens of websites offering free criminal history reports. Unfortunately, you tend to get what you pay for. Most of these “free” records are just a simple name and address search, or are from obsolete or unsubstantiated criminal data sources and will very likely be incomplete.
Some free records may be available from state and/or local law enforcement agencies. To be sure you are looking at an official government website, check the end of the web address. It should end in “.gov” NOT “.com.” A visit or phone call to your local law enforcement agency would also be a good place to start.
Again, the most reliable source for a complete criminal history is the FBI’s Identity History Summary.
How does the law define conviction?
A “conviction” is the consequence of a trial by jury in which a criminal defendant is found guilty. The term “summary conviction” refers to the consequence of a trial before a court or judge, without a jury, which generally involves a minor misdemeanor.
What is an expungement order?
If expungement is granted, the judge enters an “expungement order” requiring the court records regarding an arrest or conviction to be deleted (or at least sealed from the public record).
What do expungement lawyers do?
In relatively straightforward expungement cases, a lawyer may not be necessary. All that may be needed is to fill out the proper paperwork and perhaps appear before a judge. However, in cases involving more serious misdemeanors, including DUI’s, and especially in felony cases, hiring an experienced expungement attorney could be well worth the investment. He or she will help you determine if you meet the state’s eligibility requirements, research your case, file all necessary paperwork, and represent you in court. Expungement can have an enormous impact on your family life, your ability to secure a job, obtain a loan, or rent an apartment, etc. Given that your local judges and prosecutors might be reluctant to allow expungement, it is in your best interest to have skilled representation seeing your case through.
Expungement Laws Vary By State - View Your State Below
Each state has specific rules and regulations regarding expungement. For more detailed information, it’s best to check with an attorney or the court system where you want to have a criminal record expunged.
|Alabama||Applies to non-violent felonies, misdemeanors. Cannot expunge a conviction Requires payment of $300 fee plus court costs and a petition to an Alabama circuit court|
|Alaska||If convicted, a person cannot have their records destroyed or purged. If an individual has been wrongfully convicted or accused of a crime, they can request that those records be sealed.|
|Arizona||Allows more juvenile records than adult records to be expunged, only if charges were dismissed, defendant was acquitted or conviction was overturned. Convictions cannot be expunged.|
|Arkansas||If all conditions met, most misdemeanor convictions can be expunged. There is a five-year waiting period for certain crimes such as battery, indecent exposure, domestic battery, and others. You are entitled to only one expungement to have your records sealed.|
|California||One year waiting period after you have complied and completed your sentence, including probation. Cannot be serving a sentence for another crime, or be charged with another crime. Most felonies are excluded, including those where time was served in a state prison. If a conviction requires you to register as a sex offender, you must continue to do so even after expungement.|
|Colorado||Only juvenile charges/convictions may be expunged. Adults can seal records for both misdemeanor and felony offenses after a 10 year waiting period in most cases. Filing fees for sealing documents are $224.|
| Connecticut||Most arrest records are automatically expunged after a certain period of time.|
Juvenile records are confidential and not available to the public without a court order.
Expungement waiting period is 3 years for misdemeanor convictions and 5 years for felonies.
|Delaware||Expungement possible if charged with a misdemeanor but not convicted. Many exceptions including sex offenses, unlawful imprisonment and others. May petition the courts for discretionary expungement in the form of a pardon if you were convicted.|
|Florida||Expungement available only if no convictions or have not pled guilty to any type of criminal offense. Expungement one time only.|
|Georgia||Juvenile arrest records and convictions. Certain adult records if it can be shown convictions were reversed or case dismissed. Must not have any charges pending or convicted in the previous five years. Other restrictions apply.|
|Hawaii||Most arrest records can be expunged if you have been acquitted or charges dismissed. Cannot expunge most convictions. Non-violent first time drug offenses are an exception. Waiting periods apply.|
|Idaho||Juvenile court records and adult records if judgment was deferred/withheld for nonviolent crimes. Idaho does not differentiate between expungement and record sealing.|
|Illinois||Arrests and convictions can be expunged, depending on the type of crime. Most can be expunged after 2 years of court supervision. Others require a 5 year waiting period. Does not apply to DUIs.|
|Indiana||Only arrest records or pardoned convictions may be expunged. Expungement available only for first time offenders.|
|Iowa||If acquitted, charges were dismissed or judgment deferred. Most convictions cannot be expunged. |
|Kansas||Most juvenile court records can be expunged after a 2 year waiting period or reaching 23 years old. Must have no pending criminal cases. Some adult and conviction records may be eligible after meeting required waiting periods.|
|Kentucky||Most juvenile misdemeanor records, but not felony convictions can be expunged. Requires a 2 year waiting period and a clean record. Some adult Class D felony records qualify after a 5 year waiting period upon completion of probation or parole. Misdemeanor convictions can be expunged except for child abuse and sexual offenses.|
|Louisiana||Most arrest records in acquittals, dismissals and set asides. Some convictions may be expunged after a waiting period. Cannot expunge sexual, domestic violence, child-related, most drug-related, and violent offenses.|
|Maine||No expungement is available in Maine. Defendants may request a pardon or challenge inaccurate information.|
|Maryland||Motor Vehicle Administration are automatically expunged after 3 years. May request expungement if found not guilty, not prosecuted, case was postponed or settled, or convicted of one non-violent crime. Expungement is not available if there are pending charges or if you are a repeat offender.|
|Massachusetts||Most adult records can’t be expunged but may be sealed if charges were dismissed, acquitted, pardoned, or a waiting period has passed. Firearm and sexual convictions can never be sealed.|
Juvenile records may be sealed after three years, if no pending charges or subsequent convictions.
|Michigan||Juvenile records are destroyed when a sentence is diverted within 28 days after age 17. Adult records may be expunged if convicted for a first time offense, is guilty but not mentally ill, is not convicted of a felony or convicted of a sexual offense. Must not have any prior convictions.|
|Minnesota||Law changed in 2015 to include arrest records, misdemeanors and some felonies. You cannot expunge sex offender information.|
|Mississippi||Juvenile records and first-time misdemeanor convictions can be sealed. Arrests, misdemeanors and some felonies may be expunged depending on severity of the crime.|
|Missouri||First-time offenders may seal a record if charges are dismissed, withdrawn or acquitted. There is no expungement for violent and serious felonies.|
|Montana||Expungement can take place if charges are dismissed, withdrawn or acquitted. Most convictions cannot be expunged unless they are overturned or dismissed.|
|Nebraska||Expungement available for arrest records only.|
|Nevada||Juvenile and adult arrest records can only be sealed with some limitations. Some adult felony and misdemeanors can be expunged, but does not include sexual or child-related offenses.|
|New Hampshire||Juvenile records are automatically sealed at age 21. Many adult arrest, misdemeanor and felony records may be expunged after a waiting period.|
|New Jersey||Expungement allowed under some circumstances. Must complete a waiting period and must not be convicted.|
|New York||Arrest and court records can be expunged if you are not guilty or if your case was dismissed. Some traffic infractions may also be expunged.|
|North Carolina||Most arrest records and court records can be expunged if found not guilty, or case is dismissed. For serious crimes there is a 15 year waiting period, and not all felonies are eligible. Sexual convictions, hate crimes, vehicular offenses, assault, or most drug-related offenses do not qualify.|
|North Dakota||Juvenile records only are available for expungement.|
|Ohio||Adult records are sealed, Juvenile records can be expunged. Adult records can be sealed only for first time offenders. They must not have any pending charges and must have completed their sentence. |
|Oklahoma||Expungement available for adult misdemeanor convictions, and felonies that are dismissed, pardoned, or withdrawn. No expungement for violent felony charges or convictions.|
|Oregon||Many juvenile records can be expunged. Adult records can be expunged for most misdemeanor convictions, some felonies and charges dismissed, acquitted or not filed. A ten year waiting period for some instances.|
|Pennsylvania||Very limited scope of expungement.|
|Rhode Island||Court records and arrests can be expunged if a person is acquitted, dismissed or not filed. Available for first-time offenders only. |
|South Carolina||Expungement for first-time offenders only. Can only petition court after a waiting period.|
|South Dakota||Some convictions and arrest records can be expunged after a waiting period. Crimes cannot involve sexual offenses, most felonies and those involving a minor. |
|Tennessee||Expungement for certain types of non-convictions and some convictions on a limited basis. Does not allow for violent or sexual offenses.|
|Texas||Expungement for arrests that are dismissed or acquitted, and convictions that are later pardoned or reversed after an appeal. |
|Utah||Expungement can take place for arrest records and convictions. Excludes violent felonies, DUI, sex offenses and capital felonies.|
|Vermont||No expungement for felonies, but does allow for other convictions and arrest records. |
Applicants must go through a waiting period before petitioning the courts.
|Virginia||Juvenile records expunged on a routine basis. Most adult convictions are not expunged, but available for non-convictions is certain instances.|
|Washington||Some convictions can be expunged if a person has completed their sentence, has no pending charges in any state, and passes through a waiting period. |
|West Virginia||First-time, pardoned offenders, and young offenders who are not convicted can be eligible for expungement. Not available for DUI, sexual, domestic violence or other violent offenses.|
|Wisconsin||Expungement on a limited basis, mostly for young offenders. Most adult records are not available. |
|Wyoming||Juvenile records and those involving non-convictions are available for expungement as well as some misdemeanor and felony convictions.|
Should You Hire an Attorney or Professional to Help?
Depending on the rules governing the state you’re seeking an expungement in, you may be able to take on the task yourself. In other instances, it’s probably a smart move to seek the help of a qualified attorney to ensure you get the desired outcome for your efforts.
If you decide to go it yourself, you can get some assistance from your local courthouse. They will be able to assist you with what forms you’ll need to fill out and where they will need to go. However, in many states, the expungement process can be fairly lengthy and complex, so it may be in your best interests to get some outside help.
There are services that are not attorneys who will collect a flat fee and assist you in completing the appropriate forms. These firms may charge a couple of hundred dollars or so and their scope of services may be very limited in nature. Because you don’t get multiple shots at applying for an expungement, it is generally not advisable that you go this route.
A qualified and experienced criminal record expungement attorney gives you the best chance at successfully completing your efforts. They will handle everything from start to finish, be familiar with the laws governing expungement in your state, have a good working knowledge of the specific court that you will be working with, and will be bound by certain codes of ethics and conduct, ensuring that you get the best possible representation.