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What is Expungement?

Expungement is a process by which a person's criminal records are treated as if they no longer exist. Each state has different options and limits regarding expungement, but all states permit some form of expungement or record sealing for juvenile offenses.

While each state may differ when it comes to the qualifications and requirements for expungement, eligibility for expungement will typically involve the following:

  • Application for expungement in writing with the court where the conviction happened;
  • The original sentence must be completed served and finished; and/or
  • The applicant is not facing any new or additional criminal charges.

The burden is generally on the person applying for expungement to show that their probation or other requirements have been completed. In addition, the application for expungement will usually only be good for one individual case (the one they are applying to have expunged). If the person wants to have multiple records or charges expunged, they will need to file separate applications.

Once all the documents and forms have been submitted for expungement, the judge will then review the petition and determine if the person is eligible for expungement. Individual courts can often have additional procedures or their own process for expungement.

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Can You Expunge a Juvenile Record?

The expungement of juvenile criminal records is automatic in many states, but this varies and you should seek the advice of a qualified lawyer that specializes the sealing of juvenile records. Generally, expungement is only available to those who have maintained a clean criminal record in the intervening years between. Again, individual courts may have their own procedural preferences for filing for juvenile expungement.

Can You Expunge Misdemeanors from Your Criminal Record?

Misdemeanor crimes are typically defined as less serious crimes that are punishable by a sentence of less than a year in a county jail (not a prison facility), and/or some monetary fines. Generally speaking, most misdemeanors can be expunged from a person’s record. Some commonly expunged misdemeanor convictions include:

  • Traffic crimes, especially first-time drunk driving or DUI charges;
  • Various non-violent crimes;
  • Simple theft-related crimes;
  • Trespassing and vandalism; and
  • Resisting arrest.

Misdemeanor expungements can in fact help to clear a person’s criminal record. However, it cannot undo certain penalties, such as restoring lost gun ownership privileges, or excusing the person from penalties that involve registration on a sex offender’s list.

Can You Expunge a Felony from Your Criminal Record?

Felony crimes are generally defined as more serious crimes which are punishable by more than one year in a prison facility (not a county jail facility), and higher criminal fines or fees. Felony charges are generally more difficult to have expunged than most misdemeanor crimes. Some states do not allow for the expungement of felonies at all; in some states, only certain felonies are eligible for expungement.

A general rule of thumb is that the more serious the felony, the lower the chance that it can be expunged from a person’s record. More serious crimes are associated with longer sentences and higher criminal fees than less serious ones.

Usually, less serious felonies like non-violent crimes (such as possession of drugs) are more likely to be eligible for expungement. More serious crimes that are not typically eligible to be expunged include sexual crimes like rape or sexual assault, felonies involving victims younger than 18 years old, and other similar crimes.

Lastly, federal convictions for felonies generally cannot be expunged. However, in some cases, the defendant may be granted a pardon in connection with a federal felony conviction (though this usually happens under very limited circumstances).

What is the Difference Between Expunging Your Record and Sealing Your Record?

The term "expungement" is often used interchangeably with other similar terms, especially the term "record sealing". However, expungement is different from record sealing in a few important ways. When a criminal record is expunged, it is treated as if the charges never exist, and they are no longer associated at all with that person's criminal history. It generally means that the charges have "disappeared" from the court system.

On the other hand, record sealing means that the charges do still exist; however, the records cannot be accessed as the records are closed to the general public. This means that persons or parties such as employers cannot gain access to those records, even though they still technically exist in the system.

In fact, in some states, a sealed conviction can sometimes be used to increase the severity of a future sentence. This is applicable in cases where the person's record as a "repeat offender" may be of interest. This can happen even if the records are technically sealed.

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Where Can I Find a Lawyer to Expunge My Record?

If you are concerned about whether your criminal record may be used against you and feel that you might qualify for expungement, then it’s important to contact a lawyer to help you through the process. A good expungement lawyer can help you understand your options and your rights under the law. If you have any specific questions about the expungement laws in your area or state, your attorney can provide you with legal research for your inquiry.

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