What Is Expungement And How Does It Work?

A criminal record can haunt you for the rest of your life. It can stop you from getting a job, or even prevent you from getting an apartment. But in some cases, it is possible to have a conviction “expunged” from your record. Not every conviction is eligible for expungement, but if granted, it can provide someone with a fresh start.

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What Is Expungement?

Expungement is the process of sealing conviction and arrest records, and nearly every state has a process that allows for this action. While the logistics vary from one state to another, expunged convictions and arrests typically do not have to be disclosed. This is because the state and federal legislatures recognized the difficulty of those with arrest records to obtain employment and go back into society. As a result, expungement laws were created.

According to KellerLawOffices.com, “If you are granted an expungement, your criminal record that is held by the Judicial Branch – the criminal conviction – will no longer be publicly available.”

An expungement does not necessarily mean that the record is destroyed. Members of law enforcement, the FBI, immigration officials and other officials can still view sealed records in certain circumstances. However, the general public – and that includes landlords and employers – will not see the record.

Who Is Eligible For Expungement?

Expungement eligibility will vary from state to state and will depend on a number of factors, including:

  • The nature and severity of the crime.
  • The amount of time that has passed since the conviction or arrest.
  • The nature and severity of other events on the person’s criminal record (if applicable).
  • Events in the person’s criminal record, including convictions and arrests in all jurisdictions.

Special rules may be in place for people seeking expungement of convictions or arrests for sex crimes or crimes that occurred while the offender was a minor. In many cases, juvenile offenders and those convicted of drug crimes have an easier time obtaining an expungement.

For example, those convicted of drug crimes are often eligible for diversion programs. After the completion of an eligible program, an expungement of records is provided. Those who were arrested or convicted as a juvenile often have an easier time getting records expunged or sealed once they reach the age of 18.

The Expungement Process

Each state has its own process for expungement, but it typically starts with an application or a petition for expungement. Different states use different terminology for the process.

  • In California, it’s called “cleaning your record with a dismissal.”
  • In Utah, it’s called an expungement of records.
  • In Michigan, it’s called “setting aside a conviction.”

The Court will likely have a checklist of documents you’ll need to include with your request as well as a list of information. All of the required information and documentation must be included with the application. If certain information and documents cannot be provided, the application should explain the reasoning for not being able to obtain said information.

When the court grants an application or petition, it will typically issue an order of expungement that can be served to other agencies. This ensures that any records they have are also removed or sealed. These agencies may include:

  • The booking agency
  • The arresting agency
  • The state department of corrections

In cases of sex offenses, reporting and registration requirements may still be in place.

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