Expunging Felony Convictions and Misdemeanors

When looking at criminal records, expungement is simply the process of erasing the crime from that record. Once it has been expunged, it will not come up if an employer does a background check, for example. In fact, one of the most common reasons why people ask for an expungement is that they want to make sure that their past crimes do not get in the way of future employment.

Is Expungement Possible Everywhere?

Whether or not you can have your criminal record expunged depends on where you live. This is something that is often decided on the state level. For example, New York state does not let people request expungements. However, California does allow it. This is a complicated process even in states that do have expungement options, but it is possible.

Even in places where an expungement cannot be used, there are other options. New York uses a similar process to seal criminal records. If certain authorities run a background check on you, the record is still going to come up. If someone asks for a public check -– which is what your potential employer would be doing –- they will not see it. The record is merely sealed from public eyes. While this is different than expungement or full erasure, it does get the same end result that most people are looking for.

One thing to remember about this process, though, is that some employers will be able to see your record, depending on the specifics of the job. If you try to get a job where you must carry a firearm or if you attempt to join the military or the police force, they're going to be able to see your record, even if it has been sealed. If you apply to work for a local housing contractor, though, that company will not. To some degree, even a sealed record can still impact your life.

The Difference Between Misdemeanors and Felonies

One misconception that some people have is that you can expunge a misdemeanor, but not a felony. As a blanket statement, this is simply not true. It is just harder to have a felony expunged, and there are some felonies -– such as sex-related crimes -– that are exempt.

The reason that it is easier with a misdemeanor is simply because the crimes are considered to be so much less serious. Many misdemeanors only result in a year or less of jail time, or none at all. Some of them just lead to things like community service or fines. Some common examples are things like:

  • Vandalism
  • Driving under the influence
  • Possession of marijuana
  • Petty theft
  • Disorderly conduct

It is important to note that some crimes can fall into either category. For example, your first DUI is likely to be a misdemeanor. If you get multiple DUIs, however, you could be given what is known as a felony DUI. Not only does this come with a stiffer sentence, it also may be harder to erase from your record.

Serving Your Sentence

If you want to have a crime expunged, it really does have to be behind you, and, in most cases, your sentence has to be carried out. This even extends to parts of your sentence that do not include active jail time. In California, for instance, you cannot ask for an expungement if you are currently serving time on probation. You must wait until the probation period is over.

Again, though, this does not mean that you are without options. You could go to the court and use a Motion to Terminate Probation. If the court grants your request, your probation is cancelled and you are then eligible to ask for an expungement. As you can see, it is very important to know about all of your legal options in every situation.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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