We all worry about what could end up on our permanent record. A criminal conviction can remain on your record indefinitely, making it hard to find a job, get into college, or adopt a child. Fortunately, many people who have been arrested or convicted of a crime may be able to obtain a fresh start by way of expungement. Expungement is the legal process through which an arrest or conviction may be erased from a person's criminal record. While law enforcement officials may always have access to your criminal history, expungement can keep your record clean in the eyes of employers, schools, and the general public. FindLaw's expungement section provides an overview of expungement laws and the procedure involved in having a conviction expunged.
This section provides articles and information on the basics of expungement, including who can be eligible for expungement, types of crimes that may be expunged, and the legal effect of expungement. Each state has its own expungement restrictions, so this section also has details on state-specific expungement procedures, what the expungement process looks like, and how to find an attorney to assist you in getting your record expunged.
While specific expungement rules can 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 for which expungement is sought
- The amount of time since the arrest or conviction
- The applicant's criminal record
- The severity and nature of other events in the applicant's criminal record
Other limiting factors may be the applicant's age at the time of the crime (some jurisdictions only allow for expungement of juvenile records), and the ultimate resolution of the charges (some jurisdictions only allow expungement for cases resolved before convictions at trial).
The Expungement Process
Even if you qualify for expungement, it doesn't happen automatically. You will normally have to fill out an application or a petition, pay a filing fee, and submit the paperwork to a court for judicial review. Even then, not all expungement petitions are granted. As noted above, the actual process varies by state and jurisdiction, with some courts requiring a hearing before granting an expungement.
The Legal Effect of Expungement
What an expungement means generally is that an arrest or conviction is "sealed," or erased from a person's criminal record for most purposes, meaning you generally don't have to disclose that arrest or a criminal conviction. In the majority of cases, a potential employer, educational institution, or other company conducting a public records inspection or background search of your criminal record won't find any mention of an expunged arrest or conviction. As an example, if you were filling out an application for an apartment and your arrest or conviction has been expunged, you wouldn't need to disclose that arrest or conviction and the landlord wouldn't have access to it. However, an expungement is ordinarily accessible by certain government agencies, including law enforcement and the criminal courts, as part your criminal record.
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 will be able to tell you if you qualify for expungement and how the process works where you live.