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 What Are Criminal Records?

A criminal record is a history of a person’s criminal charges and convictions. Every time a person is convicted of a crime, the court records this in their file, which contains a record of all previous convictions.

Criminal records are typically public records and can be accessed through the court’s criminal law system or through a county recorder’s office.

When Are Criminal Records Checked?

Criminal records are usually checked whenever information about a person’s background is needed. People with criminal records are sometimes prohibited from participating in certain activities as a security precaution.

Checking criminal records may reveal:

  • Job applications
  • Housing applications
  • Immigration purposes
  • For purposes of an upcoming or pending trial
  • Applying for certain forms of aid
  • Other purposes, such as purchasing a firearm or applying for a loan

Violent crimes or crimes involving minors can disqualify someone from a variety of activities and privileges.

Can Criminal Records be Cleared?

Having a clear criminal record is important for most people. Clearing a criminal record can sometimes be possible for persons who request it. This process, also known as “expungement“, allows the person’s record to be cleared or sealed as if they never committed any crime. This is associated with various requirements, such as completing all sentences and paying fines, as well as a waiting period from the date of the last conviction (5-10 years usually).

What is Expungement?

A person’s criminal records are expunged when they are treated as if they no longer exist. The laws regarding expungement vary from state to state, but all states permit some form of expungement or record sealing for juvenile offenses.

Although the qualifications and requirements for expungement may vary from state to state, these are typically required:

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

Generally, the person applying for expungement must demonstrate that probation or other requirements have been met. The expungement application is usually only valid for one case (the one they seek to have expunged). An individual who wishes to expunge multiple records or charges must file separate applications.

A judge will review the petition once all the documents and forms have been submitted and determine whether the person is eligible for expungement. There are often additional procedures or processes for expungement in individual courts.

Can You Expunge a Juvenile Record?

The expungement of juvenile criminal records is automatic in many states, but this varies. You should seek the advice of a qualified lawyer specializing in sealing juvenile records. An expungement can only be obtained by those who have maintained a clean criminal record in the intervening years. For juvenile expungements, individual courts may have their own procedures.

Can You Expunge Misdemeanors from Your Criminal Record?

Crimes classified as misdemeanors are generally less serious crimes punishable by a sentence of less than a year in county jail (not a prison facility) or a fine. 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.

A misdemeanor expungement can actually help to clear a person’s criminal record. It cannot reverse certain penalties, such as restoring gun ownership privileges or removing a person from a sex offender list.

Can You Expunge a Felony from Your Criminal Record?

The term felony refers to more serious crimes that are punishable by more than one year in prison (not a county jail facility) and higher criminal fines or fees. A felony charge is generally more difficult to expunge than a misdemeanor charge. Some states do not allow for the expungement of felonies; in some states, only certain felonies are eligible for expungement.

It is generally believed that the more serious the felony, the less likely it is to be expunged from a person’s record. Longer sentences and higher criminal fees are associated with more serious crimes.

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

Last but not least, federal convictions for felonies cannot generally be expunged. Federal felony convictions may, in some cases, be pardoned (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.” Expungement differs from record sealing in a few important ways. A criminal record that is expunged is treated as if the charges never existed, and they are no longer associated with that person’s criminal history. Generally, the charges have been dropped from the court system.

The charges still exist when records are sealed; however, the public cannot access the records since they are closed to the public. In other words, even though these records technically exist in the system, employers cannot access them.

A sealed conviction can sometimes be used to increase the severity of a future sentence in some states. It is applicable in cases where the person’s record as a “repeat offender” may be relevant. Even if the records are technically sealed, this can still happen.

Eligibility for Record Sealing or Expungement

Eligibility for record sealing varies from state to state, but generally, the procedure is as follows:

  • Apply for record sealing in writing with the court where the conviction occurred
  • The original sentence must have been served
  • The person is not facing any new charges
  • The burden is on the applicant to prove that probation requirements have been fulfilled

People often file for expungements in the same court where they were prosecuted.

Expungement petitions are usually only valid for one case; if they want to expunge multiple records, they must file separate petitions. After reviewing the petition, the judge will determine their eligibility. Expungement and sealing of records are sometimes handled differently by individual courts.

Additional Information About Record Sealing or Expungement

It is important to keep in mind that:

  • Many felonies are not eligible for expungement
  • Nearly every sex offense is not eligible for record sealing
  • Expungement usually applies to juvenile offenses or misdemeanors
  • In some states, even though records are sealed, the original sealed conviction may still be used to increase the severity of a future sentence

How Do You Clear Your Criminal Record?

It will depend largely on the laws of a particular state and the nature of the crime charged and whether a criminal record can be cleared. Thus, a crime that may be eligible for removal from a record in one state may not be eligible in another.

A criminal record can be cleared by following some of the following steps:

  1. First, a person should check out their local laws to see what types of crimes and other requirements are necessary to be eligible for expungement.
  2. If they appear to be eligible, they can ask the court to clear their record by filing the necessary paperwork and adhering to the proper procedures provided by the laws in their state.
  3. After receiving the files, the court will investigate the person’s criminal history to assess whether they qualify for expungement.
  4. The court may also hold a hearing to go over their findings. Attending the hearing is not always mandatory but is in the person’s best interests. The court may make attendance at the hearing mandatory. During the hearing, the court will usually determine whether to grant or deny the request for record clearance.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Criminal Records?

Criminal records are very important, especially regarding certain types of applications. You may wish to hire a qualified expungement lawyer in your area if you need legal advice. If you face any type of criminal record issue, your attorney can explain your options.

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