How to Expunge Criminal Records

A criminal record can make it more difficult to land a job or even rent an apartment. Depending on the conviction, expungement may be used to essentially "erase" the charges in the eyes of the law.

The expungement process varies from state to state, and cannot be used for certain types of convictions. While not entirely erased in the literal sense of the word, expunging a record can make it easier for a convicted criminal to lead a normal life.

What is Expungement and How Does it Affect Your Record?

Most criminal records are available to the public, which means employers and landlords can find this information if they search for it. Expungement will alter your record by either diminishing the offense or removing it altogether from public record.

Convictions or arrests are "sealed," so the conviction does not have to be disclosed and the public will not find record of it.

Expunging a record is not the same thing as erasing the record. While the slate is wiped clean in the eyes of the law, the conviction is not erased entirely.

Certain government agencies, including criminal courts and law enforcement, will still be able to see these convictions on your record. 

Determining Eligibility of Expungement

Whether a conviction is eligible for expungement depends on a number of factors, including:
  • Your criminal history
  • Jurisdiction
  • The nature of the crime
  • The amount of time that has passed since the conviction or arrest
In some states, like New York, criminal convictions cannot be expunged. In New Jersey, you can apply for expungement immediately if the charges were dismissed.

While every state has its own requirements for expungement, most will require you to meet at least one of the following criteria:
  • First-time offender
  • Being a juvenile when convicted
  • Misdemeanor conviction or arrest (instead of a felony conviction)
  • Served out the sentence
  • Drug offense
There are a few ways to determine whether you're eligible for expungement. One way is to meet with a lawyer who specializes in expungement.

A lawyer, well versed in local laws, will review your record and determine whether it's possible to pursue expungement.

Another option is to visit the state courthouse and inquire about the requirements you must meet to have your record expunged.

The Expungement Process

If you are eligible for expungement, the first step is typically to file a petition for expungement. A fee will be required, and you will have to wait for the courthouse to process the paperwork.

Some states will require a hearing with a judge before records can be expunged.

When filing a petition, it's important to do your research to ensure that you're filing it properly and in accordance with state laws. One small mistake can cause a delay in the processing or force you to start over again.

Some states have special rules regarding expungement:
  • Florida and some other states require you to obtain a certificate of eligibility form. Along with this form, you will need a copy of the case's disposition and fingerprints.
  • California and some other states require you to fill out and file a Petition for Dismissal form, Order for Dismissal form and a Declaration.
  • Some states require you to file the petition in the same county where you were charged with the crime.
Because the expungement process can be complex, you might consider working with a lawyer who will help navigate you through the process.

Expungement isn't your only option if your goal is to conceal your criminal record from the public. You may choose to have your record sealed instead. A sealed record is still invisible to the public, including employers, creditors and private investigators. But these records would still be visible to law enforcement and the courts, and would be considered a prior offense if you are arrested again in the future.
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