Having a criminal record can create many obstacles for a person. A criminal record can impact your ability to get a job, secure an apartment, regain custody of a child, qualify for certain professional licenses or exams, and can even take away your right to vote or travel freely.

For some of the above scenarios, it might not matter whether or not you were formally convicted. An application may still ask you to disclose a record of an arrest or criminal prosecution, which will have the same effect on these issues. Therefore, if possible, it is important to try and clear your criminal record.

How Can I Clear My Criminal Record?

Being able to remove a criminal charge largely depends on the circumstances in connection with the charge and the laws of your jurisdiction. The reason for this is because there are certain crimes that can never be cleared from an individual’s criminal record and removal is heavily dependent on the laws of each state.

In general, clearing a criminal record can be accomplished using one of two processes: either through criminal record sealing or expungement. If your records are sealed, it means the records still exist, but they cannot be accessed by employers or other persons. In contrast, if your record is expunged, then the charges or arrests will be erased as if they never happened.

When both the state laws and the type of criminal charge involved create the proper circumstances to permit record clearing, an individual may ask the court to erase a conviction from their permanent record. They do this by filing specific paperwork according to the procedures outlined in the laws of their state.

Once filed, the court will investigate your criminal history to determine whether or not you qualify for record clearing. Next, there is usually a hearing to assess this information. Although you may not always need to be present for the hearing, it is probably in your best interest to attend.

In the event that a court requests your presence, then you should contact a criminal attorney to appear with you at the hearing. You may need their assistance to answer questions that are asked by the court, or to represent and protect your interests.

If the court grants the request, then certain parties, such as the public, future courts, or law enforcement officials, may not have access to that information. There are certain limitations, however, where it might be necessary to disclose your criminal record despite having it sealed or expunged.

For more information about the laws regarding criminal record clearing that apply in your state, you should speak with a local criminal lawyer for assistance.

What Can Be Cleared Off My Criminal Record?

As previously mentioned, every state has its own laws regarding whether a person’s record qualifies for record sealing or expungement. Thus, the specific requirements and procedures will vary by state.

There are some elements, however, that will operate similarly across all states. Before a person can begin the process of clearing their criminal record, they should make sure that they have completed all of the following requirements, such as:

  • Finished any mandatory period of probation or rehabilitation programs;
  • Complied with all of their court ordered requirements; 
  • Paid all necessary fines; and
  • Have no new charges pending.

Once this has been ensured, a person will next need to meet the specific jurisdictional requirements for eligibility. Some factors that frequently appear in many state statutes include:

  • The nature of the crime charged (e.g., violent crime vs. nonviolent crime);
  • Whether the defendant is a first time or repeat offender;
  • The amount of time that has passed since the arrest or conviction;
  • Whether the person was a minor at the time of the conviction; 
  • If a drug crime was involved; and
  • Whether the individual was only arrested or actually convicted.

Additionally, some offenses may be automatically sealed without having to request it. After a criminal record has been cleared or expunged, a defendant usually will not have to disclose the criminal conduct that occurred, but there are certain exceptions to this rule that will be discussed below.

Does My Criminal Record Automatically Clear When I Turn 18?

Although this may not be the case in every state, the standard norm followed by most jurisdictions is that a person’s juvenile criminal files are sealed once they turn eighteen.

This typically will depend on whether they have continued to exhibit good or rehabilitative behavior, stayed out of trouble with the law, and met other requirements of their state statutes regarding expungement for criminal records of minors.

Also, it is important to note that a minor’s record can sometimes still be accessed through a court order.

Can I Get a Conviction Removed From My Record?

As discussed, this will depend on the state and certain factors. Convictions may be able to be cleared or expunged from a criminal record, but this is normally only reserved for wrongful convictions, nonviolent crimes (i.e., misdemeanors), first time offenders, and lesser felonies.

What is the Difference Between Record Sealing and Expungement?

As discussed above, record sealing means that the records still exist and in theory can be accessed. This does not mean that they can be viewed by anyone though. For example, an employer conducting a public record search will not have access to them. People like a parole officer or a prosecutor, however, may be able to see them or can be granted access through a court order if necessary.

On the other hand, expunging a record means that the criminal record will be deleted or erased as if it never existed. They will be completely removed from public records. This means that a defendant who has had a conviction expunged will legally be allowed to say that they have never been convicted of a crime. Again, the definition for both may vary by state and there are certain exceptions to these rules.

Are There Exceptions to Expungement Rules?

There are some general exceptions to expungement rules. A request to expunge felony charges are the most difficult to obtain. A good rule of thumb is that the more serious the crime, the less of a chance there is that it will be expunged.

Some felonies that are usually not eligible for expungement are:

  • Child pornography;
  • Sex crimes, such as rape or sexual battery;
  • Corruption of a minor;
  • Felonies where the victim is younger than 18 years old; and
  • The majority of violent felonies (e.g., first-degree murder, serious weapons charges, etc.).

Also, sometimes certain jobs require that a person disclose any conviction, such as jobs that involve caring for a child or particular government jobs. For example, if you apply for a position where security clearance is necessary (e.g., a federal agent), then the conviction will need to be disclosed, even if it was expunged.

Can a Cleared Criminal Record Still Be Used Against Me?

There are several situations where a criminal record may still be used against a person, even if they have been cleared or expunged. Some instances where this may occur include:

  • If person is charged with another crime in the future, then a cleared conviction can still count against them as a prior offense;
  • When a court is considering whether to revoke or suspend a person’s driver’s license;
  • If a government agency asks directly about a prior conviction, then there is a general obligation to report it; 
  • In certain instances, such as for graduate school applications or for some of the aforementioned jobs, then a cleared conviction may need to be disclosed; and 
  • Where a jurisdiction has laws concerning weapon possession, a person has to obey the laws as if the criminal record still stands.

Do I Need a Lawyer If I Want to Clear My Criminal Record?

Although it is not always necessary to retain a lawyer if you want to seal or expunge your criminal record, it may still be a good idea to have one.

A local expungement lawyer can ensure you meet the eligibility requirements, comply with the necessary laws in your jurisdiction, help you fill out your paperwork before filing, and clear up any confusion that you may have with the process.

Additionally, if the case involves a more complex charge (such as a lesser felony offense), an experienced lawyer can conduct research to determine how defendants in your state may receive clearance in such a situation and appear in court with you to advocate on your behalf.