A criminal record is a report that contains any prior charges and convictions that a person may have received. When someone is said to “have a criminal record”, it usually means that they have been convicted of some sort of crime and the record of that crime can be found by conducting a public records search.
In general, the following items may appear on a person’s criminal record:
- Felony offenses;
- Misdemeanors crimes;
- Sentences or dismissals; and
- Parole violations.
Having a criminal record can have a serious impact on a person’s life. It can prevent them from getting a job, renting an apartment, obtaining custody of their child, or taking other actions. Thus, many people will attempt to have their criminal record cleared.
A criminal record can be cleared in one of two ways: either by having the record sealed or getting the crimes expunged. The difference between the two is that the former closes off the record from public access, whereas the latter makes it seem as if the conviction or arrest never existed.
Can Everything Be Cleared From My Criminal Record?
Each state has its own set of laws and requirements for determining whether a person’s criminal record will be eligible for clearance. As such, it follows that many of the specific procedures and rules involved will vary according to the state.
There are some factors, however, that will remain the same throughout most states, such as completing an assigned rehabilitation program or paying any mandatory fines, before a person is eligible to apply for clearance.
Additionally, there are also certain situational elements that a court may look at when analyzing whether a person is entitled to clearance like whether the person is a first time or repeat offender, or how much time has passed since they were convicted of the crime.
It is extremely important to keep in mind that not every crime can be cleared from a criminal record. In most cases, the more serious the offense, the less likely that it will be eligible for clearance.
Felonies (as opposed to misdemeanors) typically pose the greatest challenges to removal and usually can only be removed when they are considered a lesser felony offense. In general, the following felonies are normally not eligible for expungement:
- Violent felonies (such as weapons charges or first-degree murder);
- Child pornography;
- Sex crimes (e.g., sexual assault and battery, rape, etc.); and
- Felonies committed against a person who is a minor (i.e., usually a person who is younger than 18 years old).
How Do You Clear Your Criminal Record?
Whether a criminal record can be cleared or not will largely depend on the laws of a particular state and the nature of the crime charged. As such, a crime that may be eligible for clearing from a record in one state may not be entitled to such a privilege in another.
Generally speaking, the steps to getting a criminal record cleared will include some of the following procedures:
- 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.
- If they appear to be eligible, then they can ask the court to clear their record by filing the necessary paperwork and adhering to the proper procedures that are provided by the laws in their state.
- After receiving the files, the court will investigate the person’s criminal history to further assess whether they do in fact qualify for expungement.
- The court may also hold a hearing to go over their findings. Though it is not always required, it is in the person’s best interest to attend the hearing. In some cases, the court may make it mandatory for the person to attend the hearing.
- At the hearing, the court will usually provide their decision about whether to grant or deny the record clearance request.
It is important to note, however, that just because a court grants the request, it does not mean that the record will never come up again. There are some instances in which it may be necessary to disclose a criminal record even after it has been expunged, such as when graduate school applications request the information or if a government agency requires that it be reported.
Thus, always keep that fact in mind if your record has been cleared.
Is Sealing Your Record the Same as Clearing Your Record?
In general, sealing a record is not the same thing as having a criminal record cleared. When a record is only sealed, it means that the record is still in existence somewhere and can be accessed by people with certain credentials, such as parole officers or prosecutors. If these parties do not have immediate access to the records, then they can request access through a court order.
One advantage to having a record sealed is that it will no longer be available to the general public for viewing. Thus, people like employers will not be able to access the record through an ordinary public record search.
Another scenario where record sealing is useful is when a person is charged as a juvenile. Most states will seal a juvenile’s criminal files when they are eighteen, but they still will need to meet certain requirements (e.g., showed good behavior, committed no other crimes, etc.) in order to be eligible for having them sealed.
In contrast, having a criminal record cleared means that the record will be deleted in a way that is as if it never existed. The record will be wholly removed from public record searches and from public access. In other words, the person will legally be allowed to claim that they have not been convicted of the crime being cleared.
Again, while it will depend on the circumstances and the laws of a state, the types of crimes that can usually be expunged from a criminal record include nonviolent crimes (e.g., misdemeanors), some lesser felonies, when the defendant is a first-time offender, and if the defendant was wrongfully convicted.
How Do You Know If Your Criminal Record was Cleared?
One way to check whether a criminal record was actually cleared is to conduct a simple online search. Criminal records that have been expunged should not be showing up in a public records search. A person can also see if their record is still viewable on a court’s website or request a background check from a private company that does them (note that this may cost money).
As mentioned above, most states also adhere to the rule that a juvenile’s record can be sealed when they turn eighteen. However, not all states recognize this rule and having a record sealed (as opposed to expunged) means that the record still exists and is accessible by certain parties.
Again, while this might not mean that the record was fully cleared, having a juvenile record sealed is another way to limit its availability. Also, in the states that follow the rule, a person is likely to feel more certain that their record was sealed because it is the law in those areas.
Lastly, felonies and misdemeanors will usually remain on a criminal record until a person requests a removal from the court and the court grants it. However, some information might be harder to access over time, such as arrests from longer than 7 years ago and non-conviction charges.
There are also a handful of states (e.g., California, Colorado, Washington, etc.) that limit criminal record data if it is older than 7 years and does not involve any felony convictions.
Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer If I Want to Clear My Criminal Record?
While it is not necessary that you hire a lawyer in order to get your criminal record cleared, it may still be in your best interest to retain one.
A qualified expungement attorney can make sure that your record is eligible to be cleared, can help you fill out any required paperwork before filing, can answer any questions that you may have about the process, and will ensure that you are in compliance with all relevant local laws in your area.
It is also strongly recommended that you hire a local expungement attorney when your case involves a more complex criminal charge, such as a felony. Although you might be able to navigate the process for clearing an old misdemeanor on your own, felonies are much harder to get expunged from your record.
As such, if you are attempting to clear a serious misdemeanor or lesser felony from your criminal record, you may want a lawyer who has experience in these matters. They will know the proper laws that apply and will be able to conduct legal research to determine the best way for how defendants in your state can go about getting their records expunged.
Finally, depending on your situation, you may need a lawyer regardless to appear in court with you to resolve any related issues before your record can be cleared.