Having a criminal record can create many barriers in life. You have to disclose misdemeanor and felony convictions on most job applications. Even a misdemeanor conviction can prevent you from finding employment. When applying for housing, a criminal background check could bar your approval. Criminal convictions can prevent you from attending college. Convictions can cancel federal student loan eligibility.
An expungement order can open a lot of opportunities for you. Expungement or expunction is the process that allows you to clear your criminal records from public view. While the underlying conviction or arrest doesn't go away, it can help someone convicted of a crime, or charged without a finding of guilt, clean up their record.
Am I Eligible for Expungement?
Eligibility for expungement of records depends on several different factors, including:
- The amount of time that has passed since the offense
- The severity of the offense
- Whether the charges ended in a conviction
- The applicant's criminal record
- Age at the time of the offense
- That all requirements are met, and fees/fines are paid, including court costs
- The laws of the state
Each states' laws detail different procedures for accessing criminal records and expunging or sealing them. Often, expungement is more likely for juvenile records. Some states may offer automatic expungement for juvenile delinquency adjudications once you reach the age of 18.
More states are legalizing marijuana use or decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana possession. These states have implemented automatic expungement or are allowing for the removal of prior marijuana-related convictions from criminal histories.
If you have an acquittal, a dismissed criminal case, or the court entered a nolle prosequi, you may be eligible to expunge records. Some states do not allow expungement of criminal convictions. Other states don't let traffic offenses or traffic violations be removed. Certain serious offenses, such as violent crimes, sex offenses, and driving under the influence (DUI), are usually not eligible for expunction.
Federal law does not generally allow expungement or sealed records. Typically, federal crimes can only be pardoned by a president.
Expungement Process Overview
There is a waiting period to apply for an expunction or to seal records. The amount of time will vary by state and by the type of offense. You will file paperwork with the jurisdiction where you were charged or arrested and pay a filing fee. For example, if you were in juvenile court, you will apply with the same juvenile court that handled your case.
Often, you will need to appear in court to explain why your records deserve expungement. If the judge grants your petition, the court orders get sent to all criminal justice agencies that might have your records. This includes the FBI and the CIA. Make sure you get a copy of the order. It may take several months to a year before all law enforcement agencies process your court order.
Keep in mind that sealed or expunged records may still exist. Law enforcement agencies may be able to see your criminal records, especially if you get arrested for a new crime. And while a court may expunge your record, some evidence of your arrest and criminal proceedings can still be found online. Some newspapers may publish your arrest, or someone may make social media posts. Those are public records the court cannot erase.
Explore the law in your state to see if you might be eligible for expungement.
Expungement and Criminal Records: State Resources
Below you'll find state-specific information on arrest and criminal records and expungement. These are from sources such as state judiciaries, attorneys general, and state police agencies.
Get Expert Legal Help With Expungement and Criminal Records in Your State
Getting your case expunged can have many positive effects on your life. If you want to have your criminal record expunged or your arrest records sealed, now's the time to learn more from a criminal law expert. Only a licensed attorney can give you legal advice about your criminal charges. Start by discussing the facts of your situation with a skilled criminal defense attorney near you to learn more about expungement in your state.