A criminal record can be a serious impediment to your everyday life. Even if you served out your sentence and paid your debt to society, you may find it difficult or impossible to resume a normal existence in society. Rather than live with this burden, you could regain your dignity and your ability to live freely by having your criminal record expunged.
What is an Expungement?
Legal experts and law websites define expunge as the act of sealing an arrest or criminal record. It is also known as an expunction or setting aside a criminal conviction. It essentially seals a criminal or arrest record in the eyes of the law.
That is not to say an expunge record cannot be seen by some entities most notably the criminal court system, law enforcement, and immigration and deportation officials. In fact, these offices will always be able to see a criminal record even if the offender has the record expunged or sealed.
Rather, the expunge definition means that the criminal or arrest record will not be able to be seen by entities like employers, rental and property management agencies, the Department of Education, colleges and universities, and others who may perform background checks on people who submit certain types of applications.
The ability to expunge criminal record entries varies from state to state, however, which is why you may want to do your research to find out if your state allows this action before you pursue the process any further. Even if your state allows it, your ability to get your criminal record expunged will require you to file the petition in the county in which the offense occurred or in which you were convicted. County laws sometimes differ from state laws in terms of whether or not a record can be partially or fully expunged.
Further, when it comes to the expunge meaning, it is important that you appreciate as well that this action is different than having your criminal record sealed or pursuing a certificate of pardon or rehabilitation. Sealing your record means that your arrests and convictions will not be accessible by the public. However, the record will still be accessible by the criminal court system, law enforcement, immigration and deportation officials, rental and management agencies, schools, and others who have the legal authority to perform basic background checks on you.
Likewise, seeking a certificate of pardon or rehabilitation differs from an expunction in key ways. These certificates say that you were either wrongfully convicted or that you served your time and have since been rehabilitated to enter back into normal society. They signal that you have been pardoned by either the governor or president, that you are now worthy enough of being hired, and no longer a threat to the public.
With these facts in mind, you can decide if you would like to pursue an expunction of your criminal record or if it would benefit you to seek other remedies like sealing the record or gaining certificates of pardon or rehabilitation. Your decision should take into consideration the frequency and severity of the impediment that your record poses to your ability to live out a normal everyday life. It also may consider the types of convictions you have on your record and how the rest of society views you because of your prior criminal offenses and convictions.
State Laws Regarding Expungements
As you consider the question of how to get your record expunged, you should first find the answer to whether or not your state and county allows it. You also need to figure out if the offenses that you want expunged are either state or federal convictions and at what levels of the courts you need to pursue this action.
The process for how to get a felony expunged, for example, can only be carried out in either state or federal courts. It can be very difficult or in some cases impossible to get a felony record expunged depending on the state in which you live. The process is so difficult that many felons prefer instead to ask for a pardon from the governor or president or seek out a certificate of rehabilitation from the state or federal government.
Some states allow for record expungement regardless of the circumstances of the offense. This means that you may be able to have your record expunged even if the offenses were felonies or violent crimes. However, other states only allow for criminal records to be expunged if the offenses were non-violent or misdemeanors. They will not permit violent felonies like rape or murder to be sealed from the public and other entities.
Some states will allow you to seek an expungement of your criminal or arrest record if you are a first-time offender and the offenses were not for violent crimes. They also may permit some offenses to be expunged if they reach a certain time limit. For example, a conviction of armed robbery may be expunged from a criminal record if it has been longer than 10 years since the offense has taken place.
To make the process easier for people who qualify for expungements, some states have adopted laws like the Second Chance or Fresh Start Acts. These acts allow people who are first-time offenders or people with misdemeanors on their records to pursue expunctions more easily than violent offenders.
The laws also permit people with non-violent offenses like drug convictions or convictions that occurred while they were juveniles to navigate the process faster and easier. They set the foundation for these offenders to be able to rebuild their normal lives without their prior convictions hanging over them like in the past.
Each state varies in what laws it has on the books for expunging of criminal and arrest records. If you are not sure of whether or not your state permits such action, you may find it best to retain a lawyer to assist you. Your expungement lawyer can advise you on whether or not your criminal record is eligible for expunction and help you navigate the lengthy and complicated process of filing for an expunction in the appropriate level of the court system.
How to File for an Expunction of Your Criminal Record
The actual process involved for filing for an arrest or DUI expungement can be quite complex depending on what state in which you live. You more than likely will have to file quite a bit of paperwork before your scheduled hearing date.
You also may have to gather certain documents like the original conviction record, a certificate of eligibility, petition for dismissal form, and order of declaration for expunction. Along with filing these documents, you also will need to pay court costs and other associated fees for the expunction. Some states also require that you submit a new set of fingerprints to the court system before you can ask the court for a sealing of your criminal record.
It is important that you file these documents well before your scheduled hearing date. You should also make sure they are free from errors because the smallest mistake can delay or halt their processing. If you are not sure of how to file the papers with the court, you should hire an expunction lawyer to assist you in the process.
You also should make sure you are eligible for an expunction. Some of the factors that could make you eligible for the sealing of your criminal record include:
- being a first-time offender
- being a juvenile when the offense took place
- being wrongfully convicted
- serving out your sentence and paying your fines
- having misdemeanors on your record
Your lawyer can advise you if you are eligible to ask the state or federal court for an expunction of your record.
You should then show up to the hearing date on time and be honest with the judge about why you are making this request of the court. If you have an attorney on retainer, your lawyer can act and speak on your behalf. If you cannot afford to retain a lawyer, you might be eligible for representation through the public defenders office in your city, county, or state.
Reasons to Seek An Expunction
When you think about what does expunged mean in terms of your present and future life, you may realize the benefits of asking the court to seal your criminal record. A criminal or DUI expungement can give you back many aspects of your life that were taken away after you were convicted of your prior offenses. You may find it easier to rejoin society once you have been granted a misdemeanor or felony expungement of your arrest record.
However, more than being able to rejoin society and live out a normal life again, you also will find yourself once again eligible for certain benefits and entitlements that people without arrest records take for granted. Once you have been granted a criminal or DUI expungement, you may find it easier to:
- apply for admissions to universities and colleges
- apply for financial aid for school
- apply for a new job
- submit an application for an apartment or rental housing
- purchase insurance policies
- seek out financing through a bank or credit union
- volunteer in the community
- adopt or become a foster parent
- apply for social benefits like cash assistance, food stamps, and Section 8 housing
A criminal record can prevent you from being able to complete all of these tasks. Entities like the Department of Education, universities, colleges, banks and credit unions, employers, and social service organizations all have access to applicants’ criminal records when they conduct background checks. If they find that you have prior offenses on your record, you could be denied for most if not all of them.
Finally, having your record expunged can give you back a sense of dignity and integrity that you may have lacked because of the criminal convictions attached to your name. Once they are sealed and no longer accessible to most of the public, they are essentially forgiven or erased from your record. As long as you abstain from committing crimes in the future, your record can never come back to haunt you or prevent you from living a happy and free life.
A criminal or arrest record can impose a heavy burden on your life that you may find difficult or impossible to get past. Everyday privileges like applying for a new job or going to school can be off-limits to people like you who have criminal convictions.
You may be able to get back to a productive and happy life without the impediment of a criminal record by having your convictions expunged. The process can be lengthy and require your full commitment to it. However, you can reap significant dividends by having your record sealed in the eyes of the law.