As we navigate life, many of us hit rough patches. Some people may experience a lapse in judgment while others suffer arrests or charges for crimes they didn’t commit.
A mark on your criminal record, even a small one, can have devastating consequences on your life. It can lead to denials for employment, housing, loans, gun purchases, and school or financial aid applications.
Record expungement can remove many types of arrests and criminal convictions from public view and allow you to move forward with a clear criminal record.
What is expungement?
The expungement definition, also sometimes referred to as expunction, varies by jurisdiction. However, it’s generally known as a legal method of removing a criminal arrest, charge, or conviction from the public record.
In some states, like Arkansas, expungement is referred to as “sealing” your record. However, in other states, such as Illinois, sealing is not quite as thorough as expungement and allows the record to sometimes be seen on a background check. To ensure you’re aware of your best options, it is always important to seek advice from professional counsel familiar with your state’s laws and guidelines.
What types of records can be expunged?
The specific criminal case types that can be expunged vary widely from state-to-state. Some states do not allow expungement at all for adult convictions. Others, like Missouri, for example, recently expanded their laws to allow wider eligibility for the removal of harmful records.
Not all offenses can be expunged. In most states, driving while intoxicated, Class A felonies, crimes that require sex offender registration, felony kidnapping convictions, violent crimes, and dangerous felonies do not qualify. However, even if your case appears to be expungable, it may not be possible if you have more than one felony.
Some offenders may find the path to expungement easier than others. Those who wish to expunge misdemeanor drug offenses may be eligible for diversion programs or to seek expungement after a post-probation waiting period. Those who were convicted as juvenile offenders are often eligible for expungement once they turn 18, provided they have had no further run-ins with the law. Many states allow those who were convicted of prostitution as victims of human trafficking to swiftly seek expungement of these records as well.
Beyond criminal convictions, you may also seek expungement to remove arrest records if the arrest was made under false pretenses, as well as motor vehicle offenses that were not committed while driving a commercial vehicle or under intoxication. In all cases, the case must be free of civil action before expungement can be pursued.
General arrest records can be expunged if charges related to the case were dropped, dismissed, you were deemed not guilty or the sentence was suspended. In many cases, this process happens automatically when the court closes your case. However, if your arrest record did not get expunged, you should seek legal counsel to get it rectified.
In most states to seek an expungement, a waiting period also applies. In Missouri, for example, you must wait seven years for felony cases and three years for a misdemeanor or arrest. In Arkansas, the wait is 60 days for misdemeanor convictions.
Why seek expungement?
If you are granted an expungement, most states will allow you to proceed with life like those charges or incidents never happened. When applying for a job or a loan, you can proudly check “no” on questions about if you have ever been convicted of a crime.
In many ways, an expungement offers a fresh start. Juvenile offenses, life missteps, and arrests without conviction from years ago should not dictate your success in life. You can proudly say that you have no criminal record.
What could cause an expungement to be denied?
Even if your conviction meets all of the qualifications for expungement, it can still be denied. Approving an expungement request is done entirely by the presiding judge at your hearing. If the prosecution, for example, presents a compelling case that you are dangerous or it isn’t in the best interest of society to grant your request, you could be denied.
When to consult an expungement lawyer
Expungement law is dense and widely varies from state-to-state. The outcome of your case will directly affect your ability to apply for financing, employment, housing, and in some cases impact child custody agreements. It is best to speak with a skilled expungement attorney who is familiar with the laws and regulations of your state. A lawyer can quickly evaluate if your records are eligible for expungement. This is especially important if you have multiple offenses to be expunged.
If you have been led to believe your case is ineligible, an expungement lawyer can often find a path to success. If you have been denied an expungement in the past, a skilled attorney can help you build a successful case when you refile.