More than 45,000 federal and state statutes prohibit people with criminal records from performing activities available to people without criminal records. These include employment, housing, education, and more. It is still possible to fall under this category even if you have never been convicted. Even if you are never convicted, an arrest for it can appear on your criminal record. This can cause a variety of problems for you in the future. If you have a criminal record and would like to get your records expunged, you will find the information and resources needed in this article to help you.
What is Expungement?
Expungement is the process of sealing records related to an arrest, conviction, or other related criminal activity from public view. Essentially, the legal records of the arrest or conviction are erased or “forgotten” in the eyes of the law. In some cases, expunged records can still be used in future cases. Almost all states have a law or rule about their expungement process, and each state is different in its process and definition. An expungement can be a great thing for those with a past conviction, as it opens up many opportunities for them to live a more free life without the legal hardship and label of a conviction over their heads. After an expungement, you can legally deny having ever been arrested or convicted of the crime you were previously convicted of.
An expungement can allow previously convicted or arrested people the opportunity to gain employment with companies that would have previously denied them due to the status of their conviction or the arrest. While an expungement doesn’t eliminate things like news articles or pictures of your mugshot online, your lawyer can request websites that have them up to take them down.
Barriers for People with Criminal Records
After people receive a life-changing conviction or arrest, life after that event can feel and look quite different for that individual. Having a criminal record comes with several barriers to living a normal life. In this section, we’ll talk about some of the obstacles that people with criminal records face and how they can affect their lives.
Arguably one of the most significant barriers facing those with criminal records, employment can be challenging after a conviction or serious arrest. Even a charge on your criminal record can limit your ability to find a reliable and good-paying job. Employers have the right, in most cases, to view your criminal records by way of a background check, and they can choose to deny you employment because of it.
Most employers will ask you directly if you have a criminal record either in the application or interview process. You have to answer honestly, but if you have an arrest that didn’t end up in a conviction or a misdemeanor that has been expunged, you are not legally obligated to disclose that information to them, unless it is your personal preference.
Having a criminal record can limit people's everyday lives in numerous ways, but driving is one of the most difficult barriers for them to overcome. People with criminal records face the possibility of losing their license and potentially their driving privileges for good, depending on the severity of their offense(s). In some states, driving crimes that involve alcohol or drugs can lead to a suspension of your driver's license, as well as a requirement to take rehabilitation classes before earning the right to drive again. If a person has committed multiple or very serious infractions, they could lose their driving privileges for good and may never be able to earn their license back.
Adoption and Custody of Children
Another barrier people with criminal records face is gaining custody of their children or adopting a child. Having a criminal record could significantly reduce your rights when it comes to the custody of your children. If the charge is domestic violence or another violence-related crime, it could practically erase your custodial privileges. Even a misdemeanor could be enough to lose custody rights, especially if the crime involves family.
When it comes to adopting children, it can vary among states, but most states will not allow you to adopt a child with a criminal record, even if it is a misdemeanor crime.
If the state you live in allows its residents to own firearms, a criminal record could take that right away from you. The rules vary from state to state, but in most cases, a criminal record means the end of your right to own a firearm.
Other barriers for people with criminal records include:
The inability to gain healthcare licenses.
Limitations on college admissions.
Refusal from property owners to rent or lease.
The inability to obtain a green card if you are not a citizen of the United States.
Am I Eligible to Have My Criminal Record Expunged?
Each state features different rules and regulations on criminal record expungement. Federally, there is no rule on expungement or sealing of criminal records. Each state is allowed to create its own rule on the matter. For a detailed explanation and to see if you are eligible for expungement in your state, visit this website to learn more.
Felony & Misdemeanor Relief
Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Washington
Limited Felony & Misdemeanor Relief
California, Connecticut, Delaware, and Idaho (no sealing). Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska (no sealing), New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wyoming
Misdemeanors & Pardoned Felonies
Alabama, Georgia, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas
District of Columbia, Iowa, Montana, South Carolina
No Sealing or Set-aside
Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Wisconsin
Different states have varying rules and laws about expungement. California instated a rule effective August 1st, 2022, that the court records of set-aside convictions will be sealed retroactive to 1973. Nebraska’s set-aside authority does not result in sealing, but the courts may seal any convictions that are pardoned. Connecticut allows pardoned convictions to be eligible for “erasure.” They have passed a new automatic record relief law that will “erase” certain felonies and most misdemeanors starting in 2023. In the District of Columbia, the only felony offense eligible for relief is a felony failure to appear offense. Virginia passed sealing legislation in April of 2021 that will be effective starting in 2025 or potentially earlier. Arizona only recently passed its authority to seal misdemeanor and felony conviction records. Effective in 2021, Arizona courts must expunge certain marijuana possession, consumption, transportation, and cultivation offenses, but only upon petition from the offending party.
Several states have laws for automatic record clearing. California, Connecticut, Michigan, New Jersey, and Delaware all have automatic record clearing for a range of non-convictions, misdemeanors, and certain felonies. Pennsylvania and Utah allow automatic record clearing for a certain range of non-convictions and misdemeanors. South Dakota and Virginia allow automatic expungement for certain minor misdemeanors. Eight states have automatic record clearing for various non-convictions: Alaska, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and South Carolina.
How Long Does Expungement Take?
Generally, expungement of records can take between eight to twelve weeks through a district court. Some municipal courts can get through the process quicker, but generally, the process takes between eight to twelve weeks. Check with your court system or attorney to determine exactly how long your expungement process could take. Before checking, make sure that you are eligible for expungement first. If you have not waited for the statutory period of time, your request for expungement will undoubtedly be declined by the courts, and you will have to wait longer regardless.
What’s the Difference Between an Expungement and a Pardon?
Yes, there is a difference between getting your records expunged and receiving a pardon for a crime. The difference is that expungement is a way to seal your criminal offense(s) from most public records searches. A pardon only relieves the person convicted of a crime from penalties such as jail time or court-mandated service. A pardon does not remove the criminal conviction from your criminal record. Therefore, someone who receives a pardon must still be obligated to disclose their arrest and conviction, despite being forgiven. Expungement clears the crime from the individual’s criminal record. They can legally claim that they do not have a criminal conviction on their criminal record.
Who Can See if My Records Have Been Sealed?
After your criminal records have been sealed, they will be difficult to find through basic searches. Most records will be almost impossible for the general public or potential employers to find through background checks and online searches. However, there are still some entities that will be able to see your criminal history, despite an expungement or record sealing. Law enforcement, courts, and certain government agencies will still be able to see these records despite being sealed.
How Do I Get My Criminal Records Sealed or Expunged?
Each state and court system has a different process for getting criminal records sealed or expunged. Follow these steps for the general process of getting criminal records sealed or expunged.
Get a Copy of Your Criminal Records
Getting a copy of your criminal records is the first step to getting your records sealed or expunged. The report will have essential information for going through the expungement process.
Get the Details of Your Convictions
To start the expungement process, having the details of your convictions is important when filling out the necessary forms. Important information to know are Case Number, Date of Conviction, Code Name and Section Number you were convicted of violating, Plea or Verdict information, Probation information, any information about Fines or Restitution, what state prison you were sentenced to, and when you were released (if applicable), and if you were released on Parole. You can get the details of your conviction from your court papers that were received at the time of conviction, the Superior Court where you were convicted, or at the Department of Justice in the state you were convicted in.
Pay any Fees or Costs Associated
There may be a fee associated with filing your petition. Check with the courts to find out what your filing or processing fees are, and any court fees you may incur through the process.
Complete and File Your Petition with the Courts
Once you’ve completed your petition, you can file it with the court to start the expungement proceedings. Ask if you have to submit any additional photocopies and how many you need to submit. Once you have filed your petition with the clerk, they will be able to provide you with a hearing date to get in front of a judge for expungement.
Legal Resources for Folks with Criminal Records
In this section, you will find helpful resources to aid you in your expungement process. If you would like to have your criminal record expunged, you may find it lengthy and challenging, but by using these resources, you should be able to begin your process in a knowledgeable and informed manner.
LawInfo is an online directory of verified attorneys and a free legal resource website available to the public. The free website offers a way for people with criminal records or legal needs to connect with verified attorneys, as well as gain valuable legal information to help them with their legal troubles. The site also features articles that cover a wide range of practice areas to help the general public better understand the basics of law and videos that will walk visitors through different laws and what they can expect when they meet an attorney for consultation or support. To learn more about their free legal resources, visit their website here.
Restoration of Rights Project
The Restoration of Rights Project is a detailed state-by-state analysis of the law and practice in each U.S. jurisdiction relating to the restoration of rights and status following an arrest or a conviction. It is a project that was launched in 2017 that covers areas such as loss and restoration of civil rights and firearm rights, occupational licensing, housing, and other focus areas. It was created to be a resource for those with criminal records looking to move forward with their lives, as well as policymakers and civil practitioners assisting their clients with their court-imposed sentences. Their website, located here, features plenty of information and resources that are helpful for those looking to clear their criminal records.
National Institute of Justice
The National Institute of Justice is the research, development, and evaluation agency of the U.S. Department of Justice. They provide knowledge and tools based on independent studies and research to help inform in order to reduce crime and advance justice at the state and local levels. On their website, they offer articles and guides about a number of topics, including expungement, criminal record sealing, and more. Through their research methods, they can provide quality information and resources to help those looking to get their lives back on track after an arrest or conviction. On their website, located here, you will also find podcasts and other publications related to these topics to further educate you on them.
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