Expunging Criminal Records

Criminal records are permanent unless your state automatically expunges them after a certain time or you apply for expungement.

Only some people are eligible for expunging a record, also called "expunction." Having a criminal offense on your arrest record doesn't guarantee you can apply for an expungement.

The links below offer easy-to-understand explanations of individual topics or keep reading this page to learn the basics of legal expungement. 

If you have any negative marks on your criminal history record, including DUI and misdemeanor convictions, it can make your life difficult. If you have a criminal record, finding a job, getting into college, or adopting a child will be much more challenging.

Fortunately, many people who have been arrested or convicted of a crime may be able to obtain a fresh start by way of expungement. Getting your record expunged can give you the clean slate you need.

This section will offer a brief overview of the expungement process. It will also provide links to articles and information on the basics of expungement, including:

  • Who is eligible for expungement
  • The types of crimes that may be expunged
  • The legal effect of expungement

Each state has expungement restrictions, so this section also provides details on:

  • State-specific expungement procedures
  • What the expungement process looks like
  • How to find a criminal defense attorney to assist you in getting your record expunged

What Is Expunction?

Expungement, or expunction, is the legal process through which the courts erase an arrest or conviction from a person's criminal record. While law enforcement officials will still be able to access your criminal history, it won't be available for public view. This means employers, schools, and the general public won't see your past transgressions.

Depending on where you live, the expungement laws may call for deleting certain records from your criminal history. Other states will seal your court records but not delete them.

It's important to know that sealed records can be reopened by the government, the state's attorney or district attorney, or other criminal justice agencies if they get a court order.

Certain Crimes Cannot Be Expunged

Most states have certain criminal cases that can't be expunged. For example, you cannot get a DUI conviction expunged in much of the nation. Sex offenses are unlikely to disappear from your record, either. If the state convicts you of domestic violence, rape, or human trafficking, there's a good chance that expungement will not be an option.

You should also know that it's a lot easier to remove an acquittal from your record than a conviction. Getting an expungement order for cases in which the defendant completed a diversion program is also less complicated.

The best thing to do is contact a criminal defense lawyer who can help with your expungement request. They'll ensure the waiting period has passed and submit the necessary paperwork on your behalf.

Difference Between Expunged Records and Sealed Records

The main difference between expunged criminal records and sealed records is simple. When the courts expunge misdemeanor offenses or felonies from your record, the records disappear from your criminal history and background check.

With a sealed record, the record does not disappear. The courts hide the record from public view. Law enforcement agencies are still able to see these records. They may also show up in a criminal background check.

Expungement Eligibility

While specific rules vary depending on your jurisdiction, generally speaking, there are a few factors that will determine if you are eligible for expungement:

  • The nature and severity of the crime
  • The amount of time since the arrest or conviction
  • Your criminal record
  • The severity and nature of other events in your record

As you can imagine, it's a lot harder to get a felony conviction expunged. The more serious the criminal charges, the harder it will be to remove it from your record.

Another limiting factor may be how old you were at the time of the crime. Some jurisdictions only allow you to expunge juvenile records. Some only allow expunction for cases resolved before adjudication at trial. For example, if you pleaded guilty or nolo contendere (no contest), there's a better chance that the court will approve your expungement request.

The Expungement Process

Even if you qualify for expungement, it doesn't happen automatically. You will usually have to fill out an application or a petition, pay a filing fee, and submit the paperwork to a court for a judge's review.

The courts don't grant all expungement petitions. If you need your criminal records expunged because you're applying for a professional license, it's best to talk to an attorney. Not only will they give you legal advice, but they can also help you with the expungement process.

The Legal Effect of Expungement

An expungement generally means that an arrest or conviction is sealed or erased from a person's criminal record. You won't have to disclose that arrest or criminal conviction on most formal applications. In most cases, a potential employer, educational institution, or other company conducting a public records inspection or background search won't find any mention of an expunged arrest or conviction.

For example, if you apply for an apartment, and your arrest or conviction has been erased, you don't need to disclose that detail, and the landlord wouldn't have access to it. But certain government agencies, including law enforcement and criminal courts, will retain access to the expunged arrest or conviction.

Getting Legal Help for Expungement

While most jurisdictions don't require you to have a lawyer to get your record expunged, navigating the eligibility and filing requirements can be complicated. An experienced criminal attorney can tell you if you qualify for expungement and how the process works where you live.

Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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