Record Expungement Defined
Record expungement is a way of cleaning up your criminal record. Expunging a criminal or traffic record removes it from public inspection.
Similar to sealed records (see below), expunged records are inaccessible to the general public. The record doesn't disappear entirely, but it's difficult to view it without a court order.
Expunged Records vs. Sealed Records
Sometimes, the difference between expunged records and sealed records isn't clear.
For example, neither type of record is available to the general public via any state or federal repository.
However, when a record is sealed, it still exists. Even though its details aren't accessible through normal means (such as a background check), the record itself is still there.
On the other hand, an expunged record disappears―for all intents and purposes. Your slate is wiped clean, as far as that particular incident is concerned. Certain government entities might access the record, but without a court order, usually the only information they get is that a criminal record expungement exists.
So, think about them in terms of extremity. Both records are inaccessible, but expunged records are, for the most part, gone.
Expunged Records vs. Pardons
Understand that expunged records aren't the same as pardons.
Expunged records disappear (again, for the most part).
Pardons mean you've been forgiven for the crime of which you've been convicted. A pardon shows up as part of your criminal history.
Judges issue expungements; governors, secretaries of state, attorney generals, and sometimes even the President, issue pardons.
NOTE: Sometimes, pardons include the option to have the record expunged. In such cases, you're pardoned for the crime and your record is expunged.
Record Expungement Eligibility
Each state has its own requirements for record expungement eligibility.
Still, there are some universal common cases for record expungement:
- Juvenile cases. Often, judges will expunge juvenile cases once the minor becomes an adult (or, sometimes before).
- First-offense cases. If this is the first and only crime you've been convicted of, a judge might consider expunging it. Usually, you first must complete your requirements, such as probation, jail time, or community service and fines.
- Drug cases. Sometimes, judges will offer record expungement if you successfully complete an ordered drug or alcohol treatment program.
How to Expunge Criminal Records
Each state has its own policies and procedures for expunging a record (or, for attempting to expunge a record).
Generally, though, you must:
- Make sure your case is eligible for expungement. Some states require eligibility applications.
- Get copies of your criminal record. Some states require this, others recommend it for your own reference.
- Complete and file all necessary documents, including any filing fees. Depending on your state, this list could include a petition for expungement and a hearing request.
- Review your case and determine your likelihood of getting the record expunged.
- Complete and submit all the necessary applications and fees.
- Accompany you to court, speak on your behalf, and make the best possible case for you to the judge.
Criminal Attorneys: Seek Legal Assistance
You can represent yourself during a record expungement hearing, but no matter how well informed you are, it's in your best interest to hire a criminal lawyer.
A criminal attorney with record expungement experience can:
Certificate of Actual Innocence
States might have different names for this type of record expungement, but a “Certificate of Actual Innocence not only expunges the record, but also states that you were found innocent of the crime.
If you were charged with a crime and found innocent, but want the entire thing wiped clean as well as an official statement that you were innocent, talk to a criminal lawyer about getting a Certificate of Actual Innocence along with your record expungement.