Expungement is a legal process that allows a person's criminal records to be treated as if they no longer exist. Expungement of a criminal record may be helpful when a person is applying for a job or housing. Depending on where a person lives, they may file a petition with the court for expungement of a minor crime or a felony.

Expungement rules and requirements vary dramatically from state to state. Typically, it is easier to expunge or seal minor crimes and juvenile records. However, some states do permit felony expungements.

Typically, you must meet state-specific criteria before you can petition the court for an expungement. Depending on where you live, these criteria may include:

  • Completing a waiting period (length of waiting period can vary from state to state) after the conviction;
  • Meeting the terms of your conviction (which may include serving jail time, completing probation and the payment of fines and restitution);
  • Evidence that you do not have subsequent criminal charges or convictions; and
  • Evidence that you are rehabilitated and contribute to society (through employment, education, or volunteer work).

Ultimately, a lawyer can help you understand whether you are eligible for an expungement.

Once you meet your state’s eligibility criteria, you can file a petition with the court for expungement. Typically, the petition is filed at the same court where your criminal case took place. Depending on where you live, you may have to attach other information, such as a certified copy of your criminal record, to your petition.

What Other Steps are Involved in Getting a Felony Expunged?

You also may have to pay court and record fees associated with your request, and most courts have that information available on their website. Typically, you will have to file a separate petition with the court for each criminal record that you want expunged.

After you file your petition, the court will typically notify the law enforcement officials and the prosecutor who handled your criminal charges about your request for expungement. If the authorities do not object to your petition, then the judge may decide to approve your request without an expungement hearing.

However, an expungement hearing is typically scheduled and the court will notify you of when your hearing will take place.

At your hearing you will have an opportunity to present your case to the judge and explain why an expungement is deserved and necessary. This may include telling the judge why you think your criminal record may hurt your chances of employment or future opportunities. If the authorities object to your request, they will also have a chance to present their arguments at the hearing and explain to the judge why the court should not approve your request for expungement.

After your hearing, the court will make its decision to grant or deny your petition. If your request is granted, then your criminal record will be expunged. If your request is denied, then you may be able to file an appeal with the court to reconsider its decision.

Can All Felonies be Expunged?

No. Most states limit the types of felony charges and convictions that can be expunged. Typically, violent felonies, sex offenses, and other serious crimes including weapons charges cannot be expunged. However, this varies from state to state.

Additionally, some states do not permit 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).

If a Felony is Expunged, Does that Mean it is Totally Erased from My Record?

In most states, an expunged felony is not a matter of public record. In other words, you do not have to report being charged or convicted of the expunged felony on job, housing, public benefits, or education-related applications. If a potential employer performs a background search, then the expunged felony (typically) will not show up.

However, there are limits to this protection. Law enforcement agencies can still view expunged records. For example, law enforcement and the courts may be able to consider expunged charges if the charges may impact sentencing in a later criminal case.

On top of that, many states require the disclosure of expunged offenses if you are seeking a job involving law enforcement, financial services, or working with children. You also may have to disclose your expunged charges if you apply for a professional license (such as a legal, medical, or pharmacy license).

Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer if I Want a Felony Expunged from My Record?

In order to expunge or seal a felony, you must file a petition with the court, follow strict procedural rules, present evidence to support the expungement, and you may have to testify at a hearing. Due to these requirements, you may benefit from hiring a seasoned expungement lawyer.

While it may be possible to go through these steps on your own, there are many important steps that must be completed correctly in order to even make it to the hearing. For a smooth process and the highest chance of success, it is in your best interest to work with a lawyer from the beginning.