Having a criminal record can impact many aspects of your life. But there are circumstances in which you can have your record cleared. You can do this through the expungement process.
Expungement is available in limited circumstances, and you typically must go through a specific legal process to request your records be expunged. This guide explains what expungement is, how the process works and when you may be eligible to have your record cleared.
Expungement occurs when information about your involvement in the criminal justice system is removed from state databases and destroyed or when records of your involvement are sealed so they become unavailable to anyone other than law enforcement officials.
Some of the information you could get expunged includes:
- Details about your arrest
- Court records about proceedings related to your case
- Criminal convictions—especially juvenile convictions
- Details about the outcome of a criminal case, including the penalties imposed
States each establish their own laws related to the expungement process. These laws dictate what types of information can be expunged from your record and how to request expungement.
Whether you are eligible for expungement or not varies depending on the circumstances including your state’s rules as well as the type of information you want removed from your record.
Depending on your state, you may be eligible for expungement in the following circumstances:
- You were a juvenile who committed an offense eligible for expungement
- You were arrested but not convicted of a crime
- You participated in a drug court or recovery program and completed requirements for expungement
- You were found guilty as an adult of a crime that is eligible for expungement, such as a disorderly person offense or a marijuana conviction in certain states
- You have not been arrested for a period of time and are eligible for a “clean slate” expungement if your state allows it
Many states prohibit the expungement of your record when your criminal history relates to certain types of serious offenses, such as murder, rape or kidnapping.
When your record is expunged, the information about your involvement with the criminal justice system may be destroyed in some states. This means that all of the records will be removed from the state court systems and criminal justice databases and will be destroyed in accordance with the state’s process for document destruction.
In other states, your record will be sealed but the information will not actually be destroyed. The information will be removed from public view and will not show up in background checks but will still be available to law enforcement officials.
In all cases, expungement only removes official records held within the state’s system. If there was information online about your arrest, such as an arrest report or a news story or posts on social media, this information will not be removed after an expungement.
You need to work within your state’s system for having criminal information expunged. Although the process can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, here are some basic steps that you likely have to take if you want your record expunged.
You need to find out if you are eligible for expungement under your state’s laws.
This depends on the nature of your offense as well as whether you have met certain other criteria. For example, you typically must have paid all fines and fees imposed in your criminal case. And, in some states, a certain amount of time must have passed since your most recent involvement with the criminal justice system.
An experienced attorney can tell you very quickly if you are eligible for expungement after a brief consultation since the rules are clear in each state about what types of records can be expunged.
You must submit an official request to the court for expungement. You may be able to do this online. For example, New Jersey has an eCourts expungement system that allows you to submit a free petition for expungement.
Other states make the forms available, but you must print and submit manual copies. For example, the Pennsylvania State Police provide a link to the expungement form for PA on their website.
There may be a fee associated with submitting a request for expungement. And you may be required to include certain documentation with your forms such as a certificate of non-opposition showing the prosecutor’s office is not opposed to your record being expunged.
You may be required to attend a hearing in order to demonstrate why your record should be expunged. In other situations, this is not required provided there is no opposition to your record being expunged.
If you must attend a hearing, you should be prepared to provide additional information to support your case.
If your expungement is granted, a court order for expungement will be presented to appropriate police and state agencies that maintain copies of your criminal records. The agencies then take action to either seal or destroy your records.This could happen quickly or could take weeks or even months depending on the policies in the locations where you have a record.
You may wish to confirm this process has taken place properly by requesting a copy of your criminal record after a reasonable period of time has passed since your expungement order. You should not see the expunged information on your record.
Expungement is rarely automatic—you almost always must request your record be expunged. However, there are some limited exceptions.
Depending on the state where you live, you could may be able have a record expunged automatically if you participate in pre-trial diversion programs that offer automatic expungement. Talk with a lawyer to find out if your record will be expunged automatically or if you must act to clear your name.
In general, if your record is expunged you do not need to disclose it to employers or others who may ask about your criminal history. The records should not show up in a background check, and you are not required in most circumstances to inform anyone of your expunged criminal history.
The specific types of offenses that can be expunged from your record vary based on your state’s laws as well as based on factors such as how old you were at the time of the incident and what types of criminal misconduct you have on your record. Juveniles are more likely to be eligible for expungement as are individuals who commit minor offenses. In most states, you cannot get a record expunged when you faced charges for a serious crime such as homicide or rape.
To get your record expunged, you must first determine if you are eligible. Eligibility is determined by the type of offense that resulted in your involvement with the criminal justice system. You also need to be prepared to submit a petition to the court, potentially pay a fee and provide any required documentation such as a certificate of non-opposition.