Can a Federal Felony Be Expunged? Navigating the Expungement Process
Having a federal felony conviction on your record can have a major impact on your life. A criminal record makes it harder to get a job, find housing, and pursue educational opportunities. So for many people with federal convictions, a big question arises: can a federal felony be expunged from your record?
Unfortunately, the process of expunging federal felonies is extremely limited. There is no general federal expungement law that allows all federal convictions to be erased. However, there are some narrow exceptions and alternative options that may help you clear your record.
The Limited Options for Expunging Federal Felonies
The federal court system does not provide a direct way to expunge most types of federal convictions. According to federal law, once someone is convicted of a federal crime, that record generally remains permanent.
There is one exception to this rule. Under 18 U.S.C. § 3607(c), first-time federal offenders convicted of minor drug possession charges may qualify for expungement. This only applies to simple possession offenses under the Controlled Substances Act, and only if the person was under 21 at the time.
Aside from that narrow exception, expunging a federal felony conviction is extremely rare. Federal law does not contain any general expungement provisions for other types of federal offenses. Some federal courts have granted expungements in very limited, exceptional circumstances, but there is no guaranteed right to expungement under federal law.
Alternative Options for Clearing Your Federal Record
While getting a federal felony expunged is unlikely, there are some other options for dealing with a federal conviction and working to clear your record:
- Presidential Pardon: The President has the power under the Constitution to grant pardons forgiving people of federal crimes. A pardon does not expunge the conviction, but it may restore certain rights lost with a conviction. However, presidential pardons are very rare.
- Federal First Offender Act: This law allows expungement for first-time minor drug offenders under 21. Meeting the requirements can lead to avoidance of a formal conviction record.
- Set-Aside: In some cases, federal convictions can potentially be “set aside” under the Federal Youth Corrections Act. This is a form of federal record-sealing.
- Collateral Challenge: You may be able to reopen your case and challenge the conviction through appeals or habeas corpus proceedings. If successful, your conviction could potentially be vacated.
- Record-Sealing: Options like deferred adjudication may allow you to avoid a formal conviction and have your charges dismissed if you complete probation. This can help seal your federal arrest record.
- Criminal Record Removal: Private companies can help you remove federal convictions from public online databases and bury negative search results about your case. This helps manage your online reputation.
The Importance of Experienced Legal Help
Trying to clean up your federal criminal record is difficult without knowledgeable legal guidance. The expungement process and alternative options can be complex. An experienced federal criminal defense lawyer is your best resource for understanding your options and pursuing the relief that might be available in your specific case.
A lawyer can advise you on steps like pursuing a presidential pardon and help you put together the strongest application possible. They can also explore options like collateral challenges that could potentially overturn wrongful federal convictions. If any avenues exist to expunge, set aside, or seal your federal record, an attorney experienced in federal cases will know how to navigate the process.
Conclusion: A Tough Road, But Some Options Exist
Unfortunately, having your federal felony record expunged is highly unlikely except in very limited circumstances. But that does not mean you have to live forever with your federal conviction holding you back. Alternatives like presidential pardons, set-asides, and record-sealing may help you move forward with a clean slate. And an experienced lawyer can be invaluable in guiding you through obscure or complex processes for clearing your federal record. With persistence and the right legal help, it is possible to limit the lifelong impact of a federal conviction.