How Long a Criminal Record Takes to Clear

August 19, 2022

Having a criminal record can weigh heavily on your life, and have a big impact on everything from your employment opportunities to your personal relationships. 

While a criminal record usually carries with it a degree of permanence, in some instances it’s possible to clear your criminal record and start anew with a clean slate. But, once the process of trying to clear your criminal record has begun, how long does it take? 

Read on for a summary of the record-clearing process, and its timeline at every stage.

Criminal record clearing eligibility 

The bottom line is, an arrest or conviction stays on your criminal record forever unless you get the criminal record expunged or sealed. 

Expungement occurs when a record of a criminal arrest or conviction is destroyed, as though it never happened. Sealing a record, on the other hand, merely prevents any public disclosure of the record itself. It remains visible to law enforcement and courts.

So how do you know if you’re able to clear your record? Below are factors that typically make an individual’s record eligible for expungement or sealing.

  • A first-time offender
  • An arrest with no conviction or misdemeanor conviction
  • A juvenile at the time of conviction
  • Already served out sentence
  • 1 year without further offense after conviction
  • A drug offense
  • Charges dropped or dismissed

Relevant to record sealing, some states prohibit background checks from revealing arrest or conviction records that occurred more than 7 years from the present date. Again, however, record sealing doesn’t remove arrests or convictions from the record itself.

How long until you can file a petition for record clearing

Generally, there is a mandatory 3-year wait after a case concludes before you can file for either expungement or sealing of the record. That waiting period can be longer or shorter, depending on details of your case and the legislation of the state you’re in. 

It’s also important to understand that the legal processes for both expungement and sealing a record varies greatly from state to state.

Here are some factors that may impact the waiting time:

  • If you were acquitted or the charges were dismissed, you may be able to file for expungement sooner.
  • If you received probation before judgment, you may not file for expungement until your probationary period is over or until 3 years have passed—whichever is longer.
  • If your case was placed on hold indefinitely, you are likely not able to file until 3 years after the judgment.
  • If you were found guilty of one of the expungeable crimes, you typically must wait 3 years before filing the petition.
  • If you were found guilty of a crime that is no longer a crime, you may request an expungement immediately.
  • If you filed the expungement or sealing petition correctly or incorrectly, it could affect how long it takes to process.

What happens after you file the petition

Remember, legislation for expungement and sealing of a record differs in each state, and several factors can impact the speed of the process. For example, if a states attorney objects to the petition it can prolong the process significantly if a hearing is requested.

It’s common to complete the whole process in 3 months, depending, of course, on the details of your case. The expungement process itself can take anywhere between 1 and 6 months.

While all of these factors that affect the timeline of your record clearing can impact your life, most of it is not under your control. Staying patient is imperative.

Keep your cleared records safe

Expunging or sealing your criminal records is a great first step to improving the quality of your life and ensuring a brighter future full of opportunity.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that clearing your criminal record removes the information from the government database—not from the Internet. Any sensitive personal information that exists there stays there, unless you remove it yourself

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