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Expungement FAQs for Federal Crimes – Answers from a Lawyer

By Spodek Law Group | October 20, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 31, 2023)

Last Updated on: 31st October 2023, 03:33 am


Expungement FAQs for Federal Crimes – Answers from a Lawyer

Getting charged with a federal crime can be scary. Even if you didn’t do it, or were found innocent, the arrest and charges stay on your record forever. This can make it harder to get jobs, loans, housing, and more down the road. Fortunatly, there are ways to get federal crimes expunged (removed) from your record through expungement.

Here are common questions and plain English answers on expungement for federal crimes from a lawyer who knows the system inside-out.

What is expungement?

Expungement is the process of sealing arrest and criminal records from public view. An expunged record still exists in court records but is marked “expunged” and removed from background checks and public databases.

Can you get federal crimes expunged?

Yes, it is possible to get federal crimes expunged but the process is complicated. The laws around federal expungement changed in 2018 with the First Step Act, making it a little easier in some cases. But for many charges, expungement is still diffucult or impossible.

How do you get a federal crime expunged?

To get a federal crime expunged, you need to file a petition with the court where you were convicted. The process takes several months and requires a clean record since the conviction. If the expungement is denied, you must wait 2 years to reapply.

The court will review your criminal history, evidence from trial, and other facts before approving or denying the expungement. Cases involving violence, large drug quantities, etc are often denied.

What federal crimes can be expunged?

Under the First Step Act, federal expungement is now possible for many minor, non-violent crimes if it’s been over 5 years since conviction and you have no other arrests. This includes low-level drug possession, minor fraud, and non-violent theft.

More serious federal felonies like drug trafficking, RICO charges, sex crimes, and violent crimes are still very difficult or impossible to expunge.

Does a federal expungement remove the conviction?

No, a federal expungement does not erase the conviction itself – it only seals the records from public view. The conviction remains visible to government agencies like law enforcement.

The only way to remove a federal conviction is through a presidential pardon. But expungement still helps by letting you legally deny the conviction on most applications.

Can you expunge a federal felony?

Felonies are more difficult but not always impossible to expunge. Under the First Step Act, non-violent federal felonies may be eligible for expungement in some cases, especially minor drug and financial crimes.

Violent felonies, sex crimes, major fraud/theft, and felony drug trafficking are still very hard to expunge at the federal level.

Does a federal expungement seal the criminal record?

Yes, a federal expungement seals the criminal record from public view and background checks. Most employers and landlords will not see an expunged conviction.

However, it remains visible to some government agencies like federal law enforcement. The record continues to exist but is marked “expunged.”

Can a federal felony be reduced to a misdemeanor?

Federal prosecutors have the power to reduce federal felonies to misdemeanors through a little-known process called “misdemeanor certification.” This can make expungement much easier.

To get a federal felony reduced, your attorney must negotiate with the prosecutor’s office. But it is possible in some minor, non-violent cases.

Does a federal pardon expunge your record?

No, a presidential pardon for a federal crime does not automatically expunge the record. You must still file a petition to have the conviction sealed from public view.

However, a pardon makes expungement much more likely to be approved. Pardons recognize your rehabilitation, which courts view favorably.

Can you expunge a federal misdemeanor?

Yes, most minor federal misdemeanors can be expunged, especially if the offense was non-violent and over 5 years ago. Common expungable misdemeanors include petty theft, low-level drug possession, and minor fraud.

Misdemeanor DUIs and domestic violence offenses are difficult to expunge at the federal level.

Is a federal expungement guaranteed?

No, federal expungement is never guaranteed and is always at the court’s discretion. Your likelihood depends on the specific crime, your record since, and other factors.

An attorney experienced in federal expungements can review your case and advise if it may be possible. But the court makes the final decision.

How much does it cost to expunge a federal crime?

The total cost for a federal expungement case often ranges from $3,000 to $5,000 on average. This includes attorney fees to handle the complex petition process and filing fees paid to the court.

Hiring an expungement lawyer is recommended to maximize your chances of success.

How long does it take to expunge a federal crime?

The federal expungement process typically takes 6 to 12 months from start to finish. The petition must be carefully prepared, then researched by the court for several months before a decision.

If denied, you must wait 2 years to reapply. Hiring an experienced lawyer can speed up the process.

Can you expunge a federal drug conviction?

Minor federal drug possession charges may be expungable in some cases after 5+ years. But felony drug trafficking and manufacturing convictions are still very difficult to expunge at the federal level.

A lawyer can advise if your specific federal drug crime may be eligible for expungement.

Can you join the military with an expunged conviction?

Each military branch has different policies, but in most cases they do NOT see expunged convictions on background checks. This can open doors to enlist with an expunged record.

However, you must still disclose it if asked on enlistment forms. An expungement lawyer can advise you.

Does expungement help with immigration status?

For green card holders, an expunged conviction can help avoid deportation in some cases. It shows rehabilitation and good moral character to immigration officials.

Without expungement, even minor federal crimes can carry immigration consequences. Consult an immigration attorney.

Can you work in law enforcement with an expunged record?

Each agency is different, but many allow you to become a police officer or federal agent with an expunged conviction, especially if it was non-violent.

Disclosing and being up-front about the expunged offense helps demonstrate rehabilitation.

The Bottom Line

Expunging federal crimes is a complicated process but may be possible depending on your specific offense. An experienced lawyer can review your case and pursue expungement if eligible under current laws.

While expungement does not erase the conviction, it can be a powerful tool to remove past mistakes from public view and get a fresh start. For many federal charges, expungement remains difficult but the laws are gradually changing in a more forgiving direction.

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