When Expunging Criminal Records Is a Good Idea

Everyone makes mistakes. For some, when the mistake results in an arrest or criminal conviction, these mistakes can haunt them for the rest of their lives. Being convicted of a crime or sometimes just being arrested on charges is enough to bar people from certain types of employment, joining the military, enrolling into schools and living in public housing. When faced with a lifetime of limited opportunities, it makes sense to consult a criminal attorney about getting your record expunged.

In years past, a criminal record could only be uncovered by a thorough background check conducted by police or private investigators. With the invention of the World Wide Web and the proliferation of online records, almost anyone with a credit card can gain access to somebody else’s criminal record. This can cause a prospective romantic partner to refuse a first or subsequent date even if the offense was relatively minor and occurred decades ago. For those who work doing construction, plumbing, painting or electrical work that requires them to be unsupervised in someone’s home or place of business, potential customers having access to one’s prior conviction can mean a loss of jobs.

Juvenile records are usually the easiest to expunge and may be sealed to most prying eyes, anyway. Some criminal records that reflect murder, sex crimes or serious assaults are ineligible for expungement. In some jurisdictions, only arrests that didn’t result in convictions can be expunged, while others allow convictions to be expunged as well.

It is important to note that even when a conviction is successfully expunged, this does not necessarily mean that it disappears forever. Certain entities and individuals like law enforcement agencies and prosecutors may be able to introduce evidence of prior convictions if someone with an expunged record is arrested and prosecuted for another criminal offense. However, generally speaking, once an offender has had the conviction expunged from one's record, it is as if it never occurred. This means that future employers, police, courts and correctional facility personnel cannot access these records and that people may truthfully say to law enforcement or on job applications that they have never been convicted of a crime.

What You Need to Know About Expunging Your Record

If your past is dragging down your future and you feel that an expungement is necessary, you can consult a criminal defense attorney to begin the expungement process. The first thing he or she will do is run a background check on you to see what shows up. If a conviction occurred many years ago, there is a chance that it is not readily available, although with the computerization of records these days, those cases are indeed rare.

Once your attorney has a clear picture of what is holding you back, it can be addressed by filing a motion for expungement in the court where the conviction was obtained.

After the petition has been filed, there will likely be a hearing before a judge. You may face questions about the circumstances surrounding your conviction. Your attorney can prepare you for some of the questions that are likely to be asked so that you don’t get blindsided and blow your case by giving a wrong answer in court. If the expungement is granted, the judge can then order law enforcement agencies, courts and reporting agencies to seal their records to future inquiries.

As every case is different and different states rely on their own laws regarding expungements, an attorney can offer advice as to the likelihood of the expungement being granted by the court.

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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