An expungement proceeding essentially renders a criminal record unavailable through the state. An expungement is a type of lawsuit that seals the records of a first time offender of a prior criminal conviction.
Expungement also makes a criminal record unavailable through Federal repositories. In some cases, the criminal conviction can be permanently erased from the criminal record. Expungement can sometimes go by other names, like “setting aside a conviction”, “petition for dismissal”, and “record sealing.”
The rules for expungement vary widely from state to state. In general, it is easier to get minor crimes expunged, and it is easier to seal juvenile records. However, there are some states that do permit felony expungements.
Each state has their own specific criteria for petitioning the court for an expungement. Typically, you must meet the criteria listed below. Depending on where you live, the criteria might include:
- Complete the designated waiting period;
- For example, there is a five year waiting period for certain crimes such as domestic battery.
- Meeting the set terms of your conviction, which includes probation, and the payment of fines and restitution;
- Provide evidence that you do not have subsequent criminal charges or criminal convictions; and
- Provide evidence that you are sufficiently rehabilitated and able to contribute to society, through employment, education, volunteer work, etc.
What is the Expungement Process Like?
Once you have met the eligibility criteria set forth by your state, you can proceed with filing a petition for expungement. Sometimes, you may need to attach a certified copy of your criminal record to your petition. Additionally, you may have to pay any court and record fees associated with your request for expungement.
Typically, the court will then notify the proper authorities of your request for expungement, such as law enforcement and the prosecutor who handled your criminal charges. If those authorities do not object to your petition, the judge may decide to approve your request without a hearing.
However, an expungement hearing is usually scheduled. This is your opportunity to present your case for expungement to the judge and explain why you believe expungement is merited and necessary. Then, if the prosecution objects to your petition, they will have the opportunity to present their arguments against granting an expungement.
The amount of time the expungement process takes depends on the state as well as the individual case. Generally, it can take two to six months to have a criminal record expunged. The process can also be costly, with attorney’s fees ranging from $400 to $4,000 and court costs and filing fees adding on another $100 to $400.
Are All Felonies Eligible for Expungement?
Unfortunately, no. Most states have limits on the types of felony charges and convictions that can be expunged. Eligible expungement, although varying greatly from state to state, tends to be restricted to misdemeanors such as simple theft crimes, vandalism, and non-violent crimes. For the most part, violent felonies, sex offenses, and other such serious crimes are not eligible for expungement. However, as previously stated, this varies from state to state.
Also, some states do not allow for the expungement of felony convictions at all. In these such states, you may only be able to expunge felony criminal records if those charges were dismissed, withdrawn, pardoned, or resulted in a non-conviction, such as deferred sentencing or a finding of not guilty.
There are some crimes that are often not eligible for expungement regardless of the circumstances. These crimes include murder, rape, sexual battery, serious weapons charges, corruption of a minor, as well as felonies and first degree misdemeanors in which the victim is under eighteen years old.
If a Felony is Expunged, Does That Mean it is Totally Erased from My Criminal Record?
Fortunately, in most states, an expunged felony is not a public record, this means that you do not have to report it on job, housing, or education related applications. Further, if a potential employer runs a background check on you, it typically will not show up.
There are limits to this protection. For instance, law enforcement agencies are still able to view expunged records. Additionally, law enforcement and the courts may be able to consider expunged charges if they could impact sentencing in a later case.
Many states will require the disclosure of expunged offenses if you are seeking a job that involves law enforcement or children. Additionally, you may be required to disclose your expunged charges if you apply for a professional license, such as a legal, medical, or pharmacy license.
Do I Need an Attorney for Getting a Felony Expunged From My Criminal Record?
While it is possible to handle an expungement yourself, you will need to ensure that every step is completed to perfection. Further, you will also need to understand whether or not you are eligible for an expungement.
A knowledgeable and qualified expungement attorney is your best option. In order to expunge or seal a felony charge, you must follow strict procedural rules, present evidence on your own behalf, and possibly testify at a hearing.
Additionally, you will need to understand your state’s unique expungement laws. An expungement attorney will be able to handle all of that for you, as well as anything else that may complicate the process.