Criminal records are lists of past arrests and convictions. Most criminal records are available to the general public, so anyone can find them.
Having a criminal record impacts your life in many ways, affecting college admission or employment opportunities, even adopting or having custody of children.
Now, in some instances it can be possible to get a criminal record “expunged,” which means having selected or listed arrests and convictions removed from it.
In this guide, we’ll discuss what expunging your criminal record means for you, and all the details involved in the process itself, including:
Expunging is the removal of single or multiple arrests and convictions from your criminal record.
The process of expunging reopens a particular criminal case against you, dismisses it, and sets aside the conviction. Then the case is closed again, this time minus the conviction.
As a result of expungement, you are no longer classified as “convicted,” and no one, including officials, can see information concerning those prior convictions anymore.
Since the incidence of expunging an entire criminal record is rare, it sometimes gets confused with “sealing” a record, an act which merely removes a record from public view.
Generally speaking, the act of expunging applies to criminal records that did not result in a conviction, although many types of convictions can still be expunged.
More often than not, overall eligibility for expungement simply depends on the crime committed and the state you live in.
While many states provide a form of expungement, or sealing, for many types of records, some only allow expungement for arrests without conviction or misdemeanors.
Below are some factors that typically make an individual’s record eligible for expungement:
In almost all cases, federal crimes are not eligible for expungement since there is no general authority to expunge or seal any federal conviction.
Additionally, crimes like violent offenses, homicides, sexual offenses, DUIs, or fraud offenses are also not typically eligible for expungement under any circumstances.
The steps to take to expunge your criminal record will differ from state to state, but here are some actions to take that can generally be helpful.
Requirements for expungement in each state depend on a range of conditions, including fines paid, probation completed, or restitution satisfied per court order.
If you have court-mandated classes or programs left uncompleted or haven’t remained in good standing with the law, it could affect your eligibility for expungement.
To find out what requirements you must fulfill to expunge your record, contact your courthouse.
A licensed attorney isn’t essential, but it’s very helpful. However, costs to hire an attorney to expunge a criminal record can run from a few hundred up to $10,000.
Here are some good questions to ask when searching for a suitable expungement attorney:
Obtaining all required documents to file with your expungement application is arguably the hardest part of the process, but perhaps one of the most vital.
Many of the documents which are often required, such as original conviction notices, can only be obtained from a prosecutor’s office or from court records.
Once you’ve determined your eligibility and gathered all documentation, file a petition with the courthouse asking to reopen the case carrying your conviction.
Filing this petition usually costs between $100 and $600.
In some situations, you might be required to show up for a hearing date after the petition has been filed.
Again, an attorney isn’t essential but can be helpful in arguing your case. It can help the hearing proceed smoothly, and provide a better chance of success.
Usually, the process of expungement will take between one and six months, but the duration of the expunging process will differ in each state.
Also, there are several other factors that could affect this. The record offense, opposition from a D.A., or filing errors can all influence how long it takes to expunge your criminal record.
Depending on whether or not you decide to hire an attorney, this process can cost you anywhere from $100 to $10,000.
Some states do offer free expungement services to indigent clients, however, so you can find out if you qualify by contacting a public defender or legal aid.
To check if your criminal record has been expunged, visit the courthouse in person, the courthouse website, or ask help from a lawyer.
The easiest way to check is to visit the court that handled the case and request the records. If the court doesn’t have the records, you can be sure it has been expunged.
Expunging or sealing criminal records can help improve the quality of your life and ensure a brighter future full of more opportunities.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that expungement applies only to government records themselves—not the Internet. Any sensitive personal information that already exists online will stay there, unless you remove it yourself.
The fact is, data brokers are gathering personal information, including criminal records, to sell. So, even if your record was expunged, data brokers might still have the old information.
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