What is expungement?

Expungement is the legal process by which a person’s criminal record can be destroyed or sealed from public disclosure. Expungement is a court-ordered procedure where the legal record of an arrest or a criminal conviction is erased (or "sealed") in the eyes of the law. The process may also be called "setting aside a criminal conviction."
An expungement ordinarily means that an arrest or conviction is "sealed," or erased from a person's criminal record for most purposes. After the expungement process is complete, an arrest or a criminal conviction ordinarily does not need to be disclosed. For instance, if filling out an application for employment, an applicant whose arrest or conviction has been expunged does not need to disclose that arrest or conviction.
In most cases, no record of an expunged arrest or conviction will appear if a potential employer or company does a criminal background check.
An expunged arrest or conviction is not necessarily completely erased, however. An expungement will ordinarily be an accessible part of a person's criminal record, viewable by certain government agencies, including law enforcement and the criminal courts.
Note that every state has different definitions of expungement, and different rules and procedures for getting certain records expunged. Furthermore, the type of criminal records that can be expunged, and the extent to which they can be expunged, varies widely from state to state.

What are the chances of having a criminal record expunged?

It depends on your state’s law. In many states, it is up to the judge’s discretion whether to grant your expungement request. Some factors that might lead to a denial of your expungement request include a lengthy history of criminal acts since the time of the arrest or court proceedings that you are seeking to have expunged, your status as a sex offender, pending criminal charges, the fact that you have had a prior criminal record expunged, or the fact that not enough time has passed since the criminal record to qualify for expungement.

Can I have my juvenile records expunged?

Most states seal, expunge, or otherwise destroy juvenile records once the juvenile offender reaches a certain age, which is usually the age of adulthood. In some states, juvenile records are required to be expunged, and thus, they are automatically expunged. In other states, however, juvenile records are simply sealed from public view, but can still be accessed by law enforcement and/or court officials for certain limited purposes.

What sort of records can be expunged?

Generally, any sort of legal records relating to an arrest, questioning, imprisonment, or court proceeding can be expunged. This includes records from the police department, the sheriff’s office, any jail or detention center, or any court. As a practical matter, however, only certain types of records are subject to expungement, which depends on your state’s laws.

If I have a record expunged, do I have to disclose it to anyone in the future?

While expungement effectively erases your criminal record, leaving you free to withhold its existence, there are still some circumstances in which you may have to disclose the record that was expunged. For instance, if you were running for public office or applying to become a licensed professional in some fields, you may be required to disclose arrests and/or crimes with which you were charged, even if the records have since been expunged.

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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