Having a criminal record can lead to all sorts of hardships in your life. Unlike points on your driver’s license, criminal records will not simply disappear in a few years. As a result, it can become difficult to find employment, rent a home, or even travel abroad.
Fortunately, it is possible to get an arrest or conviction expunged from your record. Here’s a brief look at the expungement process.
What is Expungement?
The term “expungement” refers to process of either sealing or erasing criminal records. Almost all states have laws that allow for the expungement of arrest and conviction records. While details often vary between jurisdictions, most laws state that expunged records need not be disclosed to landlords or employers.
What Determines Eligibility for Expungement?
Since expungement is the closest a person will likely get to a “fresh start,” it’s important to understand how these procedures work in your state. More specifically, you will need answers to the following questions:
– Is the offense in question eligible? Some jurisdictions only allow expungements for arrests and misdemeanor convictions, with no consideration given to felonies.
– When does eligibility begin? Sometimes an expungement is only available upon finishing one’s sentence, including probation.
– What does the process involve? You may not need an attorney, if your court has the proper forms available.
– How does your state define expungement? Sealing records and expunging them are technically two different processes. However, the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably. It would be best to know whether your state uses the term “expungement” to describe a process that involves merely sealing records or actually destroying them.
– Are there any consequences of expungement? You’ll need to know whether there are any circumstances under which an arrest or conviction might still show up. If the records are merely sealed, this could be a possibility.
Alternatives to Expungement
If your situation makes you ineligible for expungement, there are some alternatives that may be worth looking into.
– Sealing your records removes them from availability for public inspection. As with expungement, you are allowed to declare that you have no conviction. The process of getting a record sealed varies, depending on the state you’re in.
– A pardon won’t necessarily seal or expunge your record. It also will not allow you to state on an employment application that you have no convictions. However, it may restore certain rights that would otherwise be lost, such as your right to bear arms or serve on a jury.
– A Certificate of Rehabilitation is essentially a court order stating that you have been fully rehabilitated. It can help you get back certain rights that would otherwise be lost, due to the conviction. In some states, a Certificate of Rehabilitation serves as an automatic application for a pardon.
– A Certificate of Innocence actually goes a step further than expungement. This document certifies that you were innocent and should never have been arrested in the first place. The laws vary and in some states you may not be eligible for the certificate if your record has already been expunged.
The Expungement Process
The actual expungement process involves the following steps and considerations:
1.) Are you eligible? First you need to visit your state’s courthouse or website and determine what the requirements are. Each situation is different and it could take some time to determine your eligibility. Ask your attorney if there was any agreement by the prosecutor not to oppose future expungement.
2.) Obtaining records. You will need copies of your criminal record and possibly other court-related documents, depending on the laws of your state.
3.) Paperwork and fees. Some states require you to file a petition for expungement with the courthouse. There will also be a fee involved, after which you’ll have to wait until the court processes your paperwork. Make sure you fill everything out properly, as small mistakes can lead to lengthy delays in the process.
4.) The hearing. Once the court is done with your paperwork, you may receive a hearing date. If not, you’ll probably have to request one yourself. The hearing is your opportunity to discuss your expungement with a judge.
In some states, juveniles and drug offenders may have an easier time getting their records expunged. With regard to drug offenses, some offenders are eligible for diversion programs that provide for expungement upon completion. Juveniles may have an advantage because their crimes were committed before reaching the age of 18.
Hiring an Attorney
The expungement process can be lengthy and arduous. For this reason, hiring an attorney is usually a good idea. Even cases that seem straightforward can become complicated when they involve expungement. If you cannot afford an attorney, a public defender can also help you navigate the process.
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