The Basics of Expungement

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It often goes unacknowledged, but the fact is, that millions of Americans have at some point run afoul of the law and faced the criminal justice system. Whether it’s a college kid arrested for underage drinking, an unfortunate physical confrontation between adults, or something else, the consequences of having an arrest or criminal conviction on one’s record can be devastating.

A criminal record, for example, can severely complicate job prospects, college admissions, or any number of other important life choices, such as adopting a child.

In these circumstance, and many more, an expungement would be ideal.

What is expungement? Expungement is the legal process through which an arrest or conviction would be erased from a person’s permanent record, giving them a fresh start in life. While law enforcement officials would typically still have access to an individual’s criminal history, the general public will not.

Much of what qualifies for an expungement depends on the laws of the state where the arrest or conviction occurred. Usually, certain criteria must be met first, such as:

  • A minimum length of time since the arrest or conviction.
  • No further arrests or convictions since the original event.
  • Dismissed subsequent criminal proceedings.
  • An acquittal or “not guilty” verdict after a trial.
  • Or, being released before any formal charges were filed.

An expungement can erase all court records, and any records on file with correctional facilities or other law enforcement or criminal justice agencies relating to the person’s arrest, detention, trial and adjudication. In other words, it would be as if the arrest or crime never happened.

In most states, violent felonies can never be expunged. The legal erasure may also be primarily reserved for first-time misdemeanor offenders.

An expungement isn’t automatic. In cases where it may be most justified, a written application still has to be filed with the appropriate court and further requirements pursuant to respective state laws must also be met.

An expungement request can also be denied. Reasons can include an open case, a pending arrest, additional arrests after the event in question, other convictions, and if the expungement requestor was arrested or convicted for a sexual crime, or is a registered sex offender.

For those who may be seeking an expungement, or information about it, it’s strongly recommended to speak with an experienced criminal law attorney. Do not wait to contact a member of our legal team with your questions on this issue or any other criminal law question.