How to Get a Criminal Record Expunged


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In our modern digital age, even having a mug shot, let alone a conviction, can create difficult and embarrassing circumstances. Employers may be unwilling to hire, potential romantic partners may be hesitant to even meet, and landlords may not be willing to rent to you. So what can you do about getting a conviction expunged from your record?

Expungement refers to the process of sealing arrest and conviction records. Virtually every state has enacted laws that allow people to expunge arrests and convictions from their records, but the details will vary from state to state. In most cases, once an arrest or conviction has been expunged, it need not be disclosed, including to potential employers or landlords, though it usually will have to be disclosed for purposes of government security clearances. However, contrary to popular belief, expungement does not equate to destruction of the records. Rather, they are simply sealed and cannot be reopened without a court order. Thus, it is possible that this information can be discovered, but usually only under extraordinary circumstances.

In some jurisdictions, those arrested or convicted of juvenile offenses or lesser drug offenses may have an easier path to expunging these records. For example, many jurisdiction offer diversion programs for lesser drug offenses, like possession without intent to distribute. These programs typically provide for the expungement of records following the satisfactory completion of a program. Similarly, those convicted of juvenile offenses need only reach the age of 18 and stay out of further trouble in most states to have these records sealed.

Not every crime or circumstance is eligible for expungement, however. For example, a jurisdiction may only allow you to expunge arrests and misdemeanor convictions and not allow felony convictions to be expunged. Some states may also have time limits, so convictions or arrests that are fairly recent may not be eligible for expungement. Also, if an individual is still serving a sentence, including not just incarceration, but also probation, or payment of fines and costs, they will probably not yet be eligible to have their file expunged.

Some jurisdictions also offer what is known as a “Certificate of Actual Innocence.” This is perhaps the most powerful form of expungement, as it does more than simply seal a record; it actually proves that a record should never have existed at all. For example, if charges are dropped against an individual or that person is found not guilty, they may be entitled to a Certificate of Actual Innocence.

Because laws vary by state, you will need to check with your local requirements to determine exactly what will be required in your case. Often, the clerk of court in your area may have a packet of documents that you can either buy or obtain free copies of in order to request an expungement. In other instances, you may find the requisite forms in the text of the law related to expunging criminal records. You an also contact a local attorney for assistance with not only the forms but also filing your request and ushering it through court.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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