There are a lot of reasons that people could look into your background. For example, if you’re applying for a new job, you want to volunteer for an organization, or you’re starting a new relationship, it could lead to someone checking out your background.
If there are red flags on it, it can be problematic and create serious problems in your life. Criminal records are among the biggest red flags people worry about.
When you’re convicted of a crime, you might want to seal it so that people can’t see it when they look your name up. There are options for doing this, including expungement, which is detailed below.
What Is Expungement?
Expungement is also known as expunction, and it’s a process where the legal record of an arrest or conviction of a crime is forgotten. It’s like erasing your record or setting aside a conviction. For someone with a criminal history, going through the legal process of expungement can change their entire life.
An expungement gives someone the opportunity to live without the constant worry that their previous legal problems will haunt them.
When someone gets an arrest or conviction expunged, it seals or erases it from their court record for the vast majority of purposes. Once the process of expungement is complete, the person who was arrested or convicted of a crime is not required legally to disclose the incident.
In limited circumstances, a person might have to disclose an expungement, such as when they’re under oath, but no more than that.
Expungements can help with background checks. Background checks are required for a lot of things in life, including getting a job and gaining housing.
If you’re filing an application to rent an apartment or get a job, if your court records were expunged, you aren’t required to disclose that you were arrested or convicted. It’s very unlikely that a private sector employer or landlord would be able to get access to a record that was expunged because usually, there’s no record of it that will appear.
One exception to this is if someone wants to work for the federal government or as a contractor for the federal government. An FBI database doesn’t have to match the state courts, so expunged or sealed records may appear when they’d otherwise not be shown.
When someone wants to have an arrest or conviction expunged, how they go about doing so depends on their jurisdiction. In some jurisdictions, once something is expunged then prohibited from being released or disseminated in records. In other locations, as part of the expungement process, the records are physically destroyed. Some places will create legal protections that explicitly allow parties to deny these records exist without worrying about perjury.
There are some types of records automatically sealed, like those relating to juvenile arrests. Others require that someone prepare a court filing.
If a person wants an expungement, it can sometimes be a good idea to work with a criminal defense lawyer. Some jurisdictions have made it easy to file on your own for expungement without having a legal representative.
Whether or not your record can be expunged depends on a lot of factors, including the jurisdiction, the type of charge or crime, and how long has passed since you were arrested or convicted. Also relevant is whether you have any other criminal history.
Some jurisdictions allow expungement only for arrests or misdemeanor convictions, but felony convictions aren’t eligible. Other states will have a list of particular offenses that aren’t eligible for expungement. Violent offenses, sex crimes, and impaired driving are often not eligible for expungement.
There are rules on when a person is eligible too.
Many states require that you’re eligible for expungement only after serving your entire sentence, which includes any probation. You may also be required to have paid all fines, fees, and restitution from your offense before you’re eligible for expungement.
A waiting period may apply, which could be anywhere from one to 10 years after the completion of a sentence.
You don’t automatically have to hire an attorney to help you with expungement. A lot of courts will put the paperwork online you need to complete, or you can get it from the courthouse. You’ll usually have to fill out the relevant paperwork, like an expungement petition. You then file it with the court and office of the prosecutor, and sometimes you’ll have to pay a filing fee.
Finally, you will usually do a court hearing, although the process for this varies depending on the state.