Even minor criminal charges on your record can wreak havoc on your life. More employers are requiring background checks. Perhaps you were acquitted, but the appearance of a criminal offense could prevent you from getting your dream job. Or, that perfect apartment. It could even prevent you from joining the military.
A felony conviction can strip you of certain rights. You may not be allowed to vote for some time. You won't be able to serve on a jury. After serving your sentence, you may find it challenging to rebuild your life.
Seeking an expungement of your criminal record can help relieve these burdens.
How Expungement Works
The expungement process varies by state. Not every state offers expungements. Some states limit it to acquittals or dismissed charges but will not expunge criminal convictions. Some may allow the erasure of misdemeanor convictions. Most often, serious or violent felony convictions are not eligible.
- You first need to learn your state's expungement laws. You can only apply for an expunction at the court that handled your case. You can check your state's laws on FindLaw's Expungement and Criminal Records: State-Specific Information page. Some states offer self-help court forms you can print and file with the court.
- Your criminal case must be complete before you can apply for an expunction. This includes finishing any probation, paying any fines and court costs, and completing any other terms ordered by the court. There is usually a waiting period before you can file. The length of time will vary by the type of charge you are looking to expunge.
- Gather all the required documents needed to file your application. You can get many documents from the prosecutor's office or court records. Some jurisdictions need formal approval of expungement from the prosecutor's office before the expungement moves to the court.
- Once you prepare your expungement of records petition, some jurisdictions require an applicant to deliver or "serve" papers to district attorneys. Others need the applicant to prepare a legal document called the Order of Expungement, which the judge will sign. You can file your petition with the court clerk and pay the filing fee. You can get a waiver if you can't afford the filing fee.
- Usually, there is a court hearing to determine if expungement is appropriate in your case. Having a criminal law attorney to give legal advice and advocate for you would be helpful, but you are not required to hire one. Check your local legal services or legal aid office for low-cost representation options.
- If there is a hearing, the attorney general's office or the district attorney will be present to say if they support or oppose the expungement.
- Expungement is not guaranteed. It is up to the judge or the district attorney to determine if expungement is appropriate.
- If a judge approves your application, get a certified copy of the expungement order. Some jurisdictions will physically destroy your criminal history records. Others delete the files. You want to ensure that the expungement court order is submitted to all relevant law enforcement agencies to clear your record. It may take several months for all agencies to process the expungement order.
- Check your criminal record periodically to see if your expungement has cleared your records. Keep a copy of the order for your records.
Examples of State Expungement Applications
The expungement process can differ by state and even by county. There may be specific application forms and requirements for your local court system. You can find these forms at your local courthouse or their website. Below are a few examples of these applications or petitions in the various states.
Expungement can go by different descriptions. It can have different eligibility requirements depending on where your case was prosecuted. Some states make you a certain amount of time before you become eligible for expungement.
An expungement's effects can also differ depending on where you live. Some courts seal your records, while others provide a process that will result in the dismissal of your conviction.
A lot of states will allow for the expungement of juvenile delinquency records. Some have a process of automatically sealing these records after you reach a certain age. If you must apply for expungement of juvenile records, the process is much the same, except you will file your petition with the juvenile court that handled your case.
Many states are legalizing the personal use of marijuana. Many jurisdictions are moving toward decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
If you have previous convictions for marijuana possession, you may be eligible for the expunction of those charges. Some states have implemented automatic expungement for these offenses. Check with your state to see if you qualify.
Get Legal Help With the Expungement Process
A criminal case expungement is a great way to open doors of opportunity. Whether you're looking to advance in your career, enroll in school, or clear your criminal history, expungement could be an answer. While you may apply for expunction without an attorney, consider hiring one to assist you. To learn more about the expungement process in your state, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney.