The Process of Expungement

There are a number of ways that expunging a criminal record can benefit the criminal defendant who no longer will need to worry about this information being publicly accessible.

What Expungement Is

Expunge can mean different things. In some jurisdictions, it essentially means to wipe out, burn or destroy the records associated with the criminal charge that is expunged. In other jurisdictions, it may mean to “seal” or otherwise conceal this information from public view. In any event, the desired outcome is the same: to hide from public view the commission of any crime.

Expungement does not have to be based on any theory of the defendant’s innocence. It is presumed that he or she committed the crime because he or she has already been convicted of the crime. Instead, expungement takes into consideration that a criminal conviction can continue to have a negative impact on a person’s life well after he or she has completed all terms of his or her conviction.

Process of Expungement

How a criminal record is expunged is based on state law. However, the general process is for the defendant to petition the court to expunge his or her record. The expungement is usually based on one particular crime rather than the defendant’s entire criminal record. The petition explains the reason why expungement is being sought, the nature of the charges against the defendant and the reasons why the expungement should be granted. It is usually accompanied by the defendant’s court documents. The expungement application may ask for proof of rehabilitation.

The type of charges that can be expunged vary by each jurisdiction. Some areas restrict expungement to only minor crimes, misdemeanors or juvenile offenses. Others permit additional crimes to be expunged if the defendant was a first time offender. Certain crimes may be excluded from being able to be expunged, including DUIs, sex crimes or violent crimes.

The court reviews the case and the application. The defendant must have usually completed all elements of his or her sentencing, including any ordered probation. Likewise, the defendant may have to wait for a certain period after the conviction or the finishing of all elements of sentencing to establish that he or she will not take part in criminal activity.

Effect of Expungement

If the court grants an expungement, most public entities will not be able to see the conviction or view documents related to the case. However, law enforcement may still be able to access these records. Additionally, a prosecutor may be able to access these records and include the conviction as a prior offense when sentencing determinations are made for a subsequent offense.

Benefits of Expungement

There are a number of benefits to having a criminal record expunged, including:

College

Many expungement requests are made by young people who have a juvenile record due to a misjudgment made during their youth. Having a criminal record expunged may prevent colleges from seeing this negative information.

Employment

Having a criminal record expunged can help avoid the barriers to employment that many convicted individuals face. An expunged record will keep most employers from having access to this information if they run a criminal background check. However, if the defendant is seeking employment with the federal government or law enforcement, he or she can expect that this information will still be accessible to these agencies.