How Can I Get a Criminal Conviction off My Record?

Criminal convictions can be discovered by potential employers and landlords upon completing a background check. A conviction can follow a person around for their lifetime. Seeking to expunge or seal your criminal record may help this information to be removed from the public eye. However, it may not completely remove the conviction from a person’s criminal record.

Expungement or the Sealing of a Criminal Record

Depending on state law, this process may be called “expunging” or “sealing” of the criminal record. An expungement removes arrests and/or convictions from a criminal record entirely as if the offense never happened. In contrast, sealing a record removes a person’s criminal record from public view, but it can still be accessed through a court order.

Crimes Eligible for Expungement

Each state has different laws regarding the crimes that can be expunged or sealed. A person may qualify for expungement in one state but not in another, even for the same crime. Generally, it is easier for people to have misdemeanors expunged than felony convictions. Some states only allow for expungement if a court record was entered mistakenly or a person’s identity was stolen. States may refuse to expunge or seal records for certain crimes, such as violent crimes, sex crimes or DWIs. Additionally, some states only allow for a person’s first crime to be expunged but not subsequent offenses as part of a first-time offender program. Others require a person to wait for a certain number of years in order for an individual to apply for expungement or sealing of records. Many states impose standards that require that the applicant has not been convicted of any other crimes since receiving the conviction that he or she is trying to expunge or seal.


However, most states consider several factors when determining whether to expunge or seal a criminal record, such as the severity of the crime, the amount of time that has passed since the crime was committed, whether a person has complied with all terms of his or her sentence and whether the individual has been convicted of any other crimes.

Application Process

Most states have a process in place to allow for expungement, which often includes an application or petition that must be submitted in order to expunge or seal the record. Additionally, the application or petition must usually be accompanied by a certified copy of the court record that shows the conviction and that sentencing guidelines have been complied with. A fee may be charged to the applicant. An individual should, at a minimum, gather information pertaining to the date of the conviction, the location where the record was recorded, the date when sentencing requirements were fulfilled and the name of the charge that the person was convicted of. A criminal defense lawyer may be able to inform an individual if his or her conviction may be eligible for expungement.
Once the petition or application is submitted, a judge may make a ruling on whether or not to expunge or seal the record. In some cases, the prosecutor may contest such an order and a hearing may be conducted to determine whether or not to grant the expungement or sealing. The court may decide whether to grant such an order based on compelling privacy or safety concerns that are more important than the public interest in having access to court records.

A Note on Pardons

Although individuals may seek a pardon for their offense, this process does not typically result in removing the conviction from a person’s criminal record. Instead, it is a finding that a political figure, usually a governor of the state where the crime was committed, has formally forgiven an individual for the crime that is acknowledged was committed. While a pardon may help clear a person’s conscience or help the individual feel re-acclimated to society, it will not usually bring about the results of an expunged record, such as removing a crime from the public view for employment purposes.

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Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication at the time it was written. It is not intended to provide legal advice or suggest a guaranteed outcome as individual situations will differ and the law may have changed since publication. Readers considering legal action should consult with an experienced lawyer to understand current laws they may affect a case.

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