In general, a misdemeanor is defined as a particular category of crimes that are considered to be more serious than a citation (i.e., a ticket), but less severe than that of a criminal felony (i.e., money laundering or human trafficking). 

One distinguishing feature that separates misdemeanor offenses is that their charges usually only result in a jail or prison sentence of less than one year. In contrast, felonies are punishable for up to a year or greater of imprisonment.

Regardless of the lesser severity of punishment, misdemeanors are still classified as crimes. Thus, they will appear on your criminal record; potentially, even for the rest of your life. In other words, a misdemeanor will generally show up during a background check and could possibly prevent you from getting a job. 

As for the term “expungement,” expungement is a legal process in which a person who has been convicted of a certain crime may be able to have their conviction either sealed or cleared. This means that after their record has been expunged, the crime will be removed from the public records and treated as if it did not occur. 

Therefore, the two terms together—“misdemeanor expungement”—can be defined as when a person who has committed a type of misdemeanor crime, such as a traffic offense or petty larceny, has it removed from their criminal record, or alternatively, has that part of their criminal record sealed off from public access.

Do Misdemeanors Go Away?

As previously mentioned, misdemeanors generally appear on a person’s criminal record for the rest of their life. This means that unless a state has a statute prohibiting background checks from going back further than a certain amount of years, a future employer will be able to see that the person was convicted of a misdemeanor.

The main way to prevent such a situation from occurring is by having a criminal record expunged of the misdemeanor. Although misdemeanors are easier to have expunged than felonies, there are still certain factors that may not permit a person to remove the misdemeanor at all.

Some of these factors include the laws of the state, how long it has been since the offense was committed, the type of misdemeanor that was committed, and whether there are other crimes listed on the person’s record.

For example, while most sex crimes are classified as felonies, there are some forms of sexual misconduct that fall under misdemeanor crimes. Sex crimes of any kind are generally not expungable.

Whether or not a misdemeanor is expungable could also depend on the degree of the misdemeanor committed. For instance, many states provide varying definitions for misdemeanors, including the level or degree of severity the offense rises to, which will then lead to separating them into different classes of misdemeanors, such as Class 2 or B, 3 or C, and so on. 

As another example, suppose someone is convicted of a Class A or 1 misdemeanor. This usually involves crimes like prostitution or possession of a controlled substance. Due to the seriousness of the crime, it will most likely not be expungeable. Depending on the circumstances of the case, however, the person may be able to request to have the record sealed. 

Do All Misdemeanors Show On Your Criminal Record?

Unless the laws of a particular state say otherwise, or the person is not convicted of the misdemeanor they are charged with and/or the decision gets overturned, a misdemeanor will stay on a criminal record indefinitely or until it is expunged. 

On the other hand, if the person is a juvenile defendant, then not only are they more likely to receive a charge for a misdemeanor when they have committed a crime, but also most jurisdictions will seal the person’s juvenile criminal records once they turn eighteen. Again, this will depend on the laws of the state and the circumstances surrounding the case.

Even sealed though, a person’s record is sometimes still accessible by requesting a court order to have it unsealed.

An expungement is the only way to have a misdemeanor completely removed or erased from a person’s criminal record, and the result would be, from all public access. 

How to Expunge a Misdemeanor From Your Criminal Record

It is important to keep in mind that not all misdemeanors will be expungeable from a criminal record. 

As discussed above, many decisions will depend on various factors, such as the laws of a particular state, the nature of the crime committed, the facts surrounding a matter, and the criminal history of the individual attempting to expunge their record. 

Also, one other item of note is that the process for expungement in each state varies. For instance, just because a crime is expungeable in one state does not mean it is in another, or certain courts may ask for more documents than others.

For example, having a misdemeanor expunged in New York will not completely destroy the criminal record, meaning it will still be accessible via a court order. In contrast, having a misdemeanor expunged in Michigan will destroy it and prohibit the general public from accessing the record.

Again, while this process varies by state, the general steps for filing for an expungement are as follows:

  • First, the person must determine whether or not they are eligible for expungement. This includes being able to show that they have served their sentence, paid any fines, fulfilled any probationary requirements, and so on, in connection with the misdemeanor.
  • Next, the person will have to obtain the proper forms, which will be entitled something like “petition for expungement.” The form may ask the individual to provide other items, such as the conviction paperwork or reasons why the crime should be sealed or expunged.
  • Once the application is complete, it should be submitted to the court as well as any other relevant parties, such as a prosecutor. These parties will review whether or not a hearing should be scheduled.
  • If the application is not dismissed and does move forward to the hearing stage, then the court that initially charged the individual will decide whether or not that person is eligible for expungement, and whether or not to grant their request.
  • The court will then issue an order regarding the approval or denial of the expungement request.

Additionally, there may also be a filing fee and certain costs attached to the expungement process. These will also vary by state.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Expunge a Misdemeanor From My Criminal Record?

Although it is generally not required to hire a lawyer in order to get your criminal record sealed or expunged, it is usually a good idea to have one. 

An experienced expungement lawyer can help you to ensure that you meet the eligibility requirements for misdemeanor expungements, will be able to help you fill out any necessary paperwork before filing, and can provide further legal advice on anything you are confused about during the process.

A local expungement lawyer will also be able to assess whether your misdemeanor is expungeable according to the laws in your jurisdiction, and if not, can discuss the proper legal course for how to move forward if you are worried about applying for a job or other matters.

Ultimately, the best way to avoid receiving a misdemeanor and having to go through the troublesome process of getting it removed, is by being a good citizen and abiding by the law.