Depending on the circumstances and your jurisdiction’s laws, you may be able to clear a crime from your record. This can be accomplished in two ways: either through criminal record sealing or expungement. This means, under certain circumstances, an individual may ask the court to erase a conviction from their permanent record. If the request is granted, subsequent courts and law enforcement officials may not have access to certain information from your criminal past.

It is important to try and clear your criminal record, if possible. This is because having a criminal record may negatively impact you in several areas of your life.

For example, many people can have access to criminal records since they are generally easy to find and inexpensive to obtain. Having a criminal record may also affect your ability to find a job since many places conduct criminal background checks. It may also be harder to rent apartments since many tenants go through a background investigation.

You can usually clear your record in the following situations:

  • Probation: You finished your probation, complied with all court orders relating to your case and have no new charges against you.
  • Conviction Without Probation: If not on probation, you can generally clear your record if: One year has passed since your judgment, you obeyed all laws subsequent to your judgment, you carried out any orders associated with your judgment and have no new charges against you.

Remember that whether you can clear your record will usually depend on your age, whether you are a habitual offender and the nature of the crime that you committed. For example, many juvenile records have the potential to be cleared, especially when dealing with less serious crimes.

The amount of time that has passed since a conviction may also be a factor. Also, evidence of rehabilitation and credible sources that show good character are all essential in convincing a judge to clear your record.

How is Record Sealing Different from Expungement?

Record sealing of criminal records refers to placing a seal on the records so someone would need a court order to review them. Many juvenile records are sealed after an individual turns 18 years old. However, if the person commits another crime as an adult, a lawyer may be able to get access to the sealed juvenile records via court order.

On the other hand, expungement refers to physically destroying any traces of the criminal record. It will essentially be like the criminal record never existed. Other terms that are commonly interchanged with expungement are “expunction”, “removal of records” or “destruction of records”. This is common where a case is dismissed or the judge defers the case disposition. Expungements are usually only granted after a conviction for less serious crimes.

Can All Crimes and Infractions be Cleared Off of My Record?

You should keep in mind that some crimes may never be cleared from you record, such as most traffic infractions and serious felonies (like murder). For example, most states greatly limit the types of felony charges and convictions that can be sealed or expunged.

Typically, very serious crimes such as violent felonies, sex offenses and others cannot be expunged. However, this varies between the states so you should check with a local criminal defense attorney to determine if a criminal record is eligible to be sealed or expunged.

Additionally, some states do not allow the expungement of felony convictions. In these states, you may be able to expunge felony criminal records only if the charges were dismissed, withdrawn, pardoned or resulted in a non-conviction (such as deferred sentencing or a not guilty finding).

Can a Cleared Record Still be Used against Me?

Even if you get a criminal record cleared, there are certain situations where it may affect you. This includes the following:

  • A cleared conviction can still count against you as a prior offense if you are charged with another crime in the future;
  • A cleared conviction can still count against you if a court is considering revoking or suspending your driver’s license;
  • If any government agency asks you directly about your prior convictions, you generally are obligated to tell them of your cleared record;
  • You may have to report sealed or expunged records for a job or to an educational institution. However, note that in the majority of situations you will NOT have to disclose this information to prospective employers; and
  • You must still obey your jurisdiction’s laws, if any, about allowing individuals with criminal records to possess or own a weapon.

Should I Contact an Attorney About Clearing My Criminal Record?

If you have questions about the status of your criminal record or want to attempt to have your record sealed or expunged, you should consult a local criminal defense attorney. An attorney can advise you as to whether record clearing is a possibility in your situation and advocate on your behalf in court. An attorney can also provide you with a criminal defense strategy for your case.