Expunging Criminal Records

A criminal record can have a significant effect on an individual’s future even after a sentence is served. For example, it is legal for certain employers to refuse to hire convicted criminals based solely on their criminal convictions. However, there are steps that criminals can take to minimize the future effects of their convictions. Specifically, they can seek to have their criminal records expunged.
When a criminal record is expunged it is as if the conviction never happened – with some important exceptions in most jurisdictions. In most cases, if your conviction has been expunged then you can legally testify under oath that you have never been convicted of a crime and you can claim that you have no prior convictions when asked the question on a job application. No one will find out about your prior conviction unless you voluntarily tell them or you expunged records are subject to an exception created in your jurisdiction (such as for convicted sex offenders who are seeking employment in a position that involves working with children).
When Records Can be Expunged
Each jurisdiction has the authority to determine when, and if, a criminal record can be expunged. There is a wide variety among the states about which records may be expunged. Some states do not allow any records to be expunged, other states allow an expungement for people with only one conviction, and other states limit expungements to crimes that are nonviolent.
If you qualify for an expungement in your jurisdiction then you generally need to have completed your sentence and to have stayed out of all legal trouble for a considerable time after your sentence was successfully completed in order to have the expungement granted.
How Records Can be Expunged
Expungements do not happen automatically. They must be specifically requested by a convicted criminal and granted by a court. To begin the expungement process, a convicted criminal must complete an application requesting the expungment and explaining why his or her record should be expunged given the expungement laws in that jurisdiction. The application, together with the required fee, must be submitted to the appropriate criminal court for the judge’s review. 
Since an expungement proceeding is not a trial, there is no constitutional right to counsel. However, as in any legal proceeding, a petitioner may decide to hire an attorney at his or her own expense and given the importance of an expungement to a person’s future employment and legal rights it is important to hire a lawyer.
Generally, you can maximize your chances of having your records expunged if you can explain why you need the records expunged and if you can demonstrate that you have been successfully rehabilitated since the time of your conviction.   For example, the court will typically consider if you want the record expunged so that you can become gainfully employed and if you have taken specific steps to stay out of trouble since the time of your conviction. 
For more information about expungement of criminal records in your jurisdiction, please visit your state criminal courts website.

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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