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Expungement - How to Clear Your Criminal Records
Expungement can remove many obstacles and open new opportunities to those with convictions. In general, expungement means erasing or eliminating something from records. In criminal law, expungement is a legal proceeding to seal the criminal conviction records of an offender. By an expungement process, information or records in computers, files, or other depositories relating to criminal charges will be officially destroyed, stroked out, or obliterated.
State laws govern procedure to expunge records and the laws vary from state to state. Each state lays down its own laws for what information can be expunged from records, who is eligible, and the process for expunging.
When statutory requirements to expunge a criminal record are met, the courts will allow a person to have his/her criminal record expunged. A person convicted of a crime can file a petition for expungement with the court. The courts may order expunging of the records only if it is proved that expungement is necessary for the furtherance of justice.
After the records are expunged, details of the offense, such as records of arrest, investigation, trial, detention, and conviction, will be sealed or eliminated from the state or federal repositories. However, in many states the records may not be completely sealed, and the expunged records will be available to law enforcement agencies. Records expunged may be opened if the person is charged with subsequent convictions or if conditions stipulated for expunging records are not complied with.
Expungements will be ordered by the courts based on the law of jurisdiction in which the record to be expunged was made. Records of less serious convictions are generally expunged. Often, grave offenses such as rape, offenses against minors can't be expunged. Many states also prohibit felony expungement. Convictions that can't be expunged include:
- Felonies committed on a person less than eighteen years of age
- First degree misdemeanors committed on a person under the age of eighteen years
- Offense of sexual battery
- Pornography or obscenity that involves a minor
- Corruption that involves a minor
- Offense of sexual imposition
Many states have laws that allow expunging criminal records of juvenile offenders charged with a crime. Record expungement seals the criminal history of delinquent acts of juveniles. The purpose of sealing juvenile records is to guard a juvenile offender from the negative impacts of criminal reports and arrest records. Expungement of criminal records allows a juvenile to lead a normal life on attaining maturity.
The expunged records cannot be accessed for making criminal history checks for general employment or licensing purposes. However, expunged records can be accessed for background checks for employment of law enforcement officers or jobs involving children or aged persons.
Apart from expungement of records, some states issue a Certificate of Rehabilitation (COR) to restore civil and political rights of persons convicted of crimes. A COR certifies that a person is currently complying with the laws and is showing good moral character.
What is expungement?
Expungement is a legal proceeding by which records of criminal convictions are sealed from public records or destroyed. Record expungement seals or removes information from the files of public repositories, thus making the records unavailable to the public. Files and information stored in the depositories of courts, law enforcement agencies, correction centers, detention facilities, and criminal justice agencies can be expunged. Records relating to a criminal offense that can be sealed through expungements are:
- arrest records
- investigation records
- detention records
- records of criminal trial or disposition
What are the requirements to be eligible for expungement of criminal records?
Expungement procedures are governed by the law of the state where the arrest or the conviction occurred. Courts will usually grant a petition to expunge records if the following conditions are fulfilled:
- there are no prior convictions or arrests of the accused
- a stipulated period of time has passed since the arrest
- the accused was released before filing formal charge
- the accused was discharged without conviction
- the court proceedings were dismissed
- after the trial the accused was acquitted or found not guilty
Can felony records be expunged?
Both misdemeanor and felony convictions can be expunged. But the nature and form of relief available for these convictions varies according to the criminal charges and sentences ordered by courts. In general, courts will not allow petition for felony expungement for a person convicted of serious felony convictions. The convictions that are typically not eligible for expungement are:
- first degree misdemeanor committed against a person under eighteen years of age
- felony committed against a minor
- pornography or obscenity involving a minor
- offenses like rape, sexual imposition, and sexual battery
Can you tell me how to expunge criminal juvenile records?
Many jurisdictions allow expunging of juvenile records automatically once a juvenile attains a certain age. Sealing juvenile records will allow a minor who has committed delinquent acts to obliterate his/her records permanently and enter adulthood with a clean start. In some jurisdictions, a juvenile has to file a petition for expungement. If a petitioner is above eighteen years of age, courts will allow a petition to expunge criminal records and will seal the records from the public domain. However, juvenile records relating to adjudication for murder will not be expunged by courts.
Can an expunged or sealed record be used for future convictions?
Yes. Courts will unseal records expunged for future convictions. Further, when prosecuted for a crime, an accused has to disclose all prior convictions, along with expunged convictions, if any.
Will expunged records be available for background checks?
Generally, expunged records will not be accessible to public and once sealed such records cannot be used for law enforcement or civil use. A record expunged cannot be used for criminal history checks or background checks by any private or public entity. However, some jurisdictions allow for scrutiny of expunged records for employment verification of law enforcement officers and in jobs involving children or aged persons.