How to Expunge a Criminal Record

By Mary Jane Freeman
A man in handcuffs.

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For those who have an arrest or conviction on their record, getting an expungement may be just what's needed to get that sought-after job or apartment, since a criminal record can often be an impediment. Expungement is the process that seals information in a criminal record, making it unavailable to the public, although law enforcement can usually still access it. Eligibility for expungement varies by state, and may be available only for misdemeanor convictions, after successful completion of probation or after a certain period of time has passed.

Eligibility for Expungement

The first step to getting a criminal record sealed is to determine whether it is eligible for expungement. Eligibility requirements vary, so contact the court that handled the original case. For example, in Louisiana, a person can have only one DUI expunged per 10-year period, one felony expunged during his lifetime and one misdemeanor expunged within a five-year period. In Kentucky, on the other hand, a person found not guilty or whose case was dismissed with prejudice, but not in exchange for pleading guilty for another crime, can have the arrest, charge and other matters related to the case expunged. People convicted of a misdemeanor or violation, or multiple misdemeanors or violations from same incident, can also have records related to the case expunged.

Expungement Requires Petition

Once eligibility is confirmed, the next step is filing a petition for expungement with the court. This is sometimes called a motion for expungement. The petition must include the petitioner's name and address; the arrest or conviction to be expunged; the case number; the name of the court that handled the matter; sentence, parole or probation details; and whether restitution was paid to victims. Other requirements may include submitting fingerprints, a copy of the criminal record and a fee. Notice of the request for expungement is typically forwarded to third parties, such as law enforcement. For example, in Pennsylvania, the petitioner must provide a copy of the petition to the Commonwealth's attorney, so that he may consent or object to the expungement.

Expungement Hearing

Once the expungement petition is filed with the court, a hearing is typically scheduled, but this may not be a requirement in your area. At the hearing, the petitioner is typically given an opportunity to explain why he thinks he should receive an expungement. For example, he may argue that he has not had any additional brushes with the law since his conviction, has been working steadily for several years and participates in community service projects regularly. Anyone opposing the expungement is also given a chance to speak. The judge may announce his decision at the conclusion of the hearing or mail notice of it a few weeks later. If approved, the judge drafts an expungement order and forwards a copy to law enforcement so the requested record can be sealed from public view in their databases.

Expungement of Juvenile Records

Juvenile criminal records can be expunged automatically once the minor reaches a certain age, usually 18, or a certain amount of time has passed since the offense. Contact the juvenile court in your jurisdiction to determine whether this is the case. If not, a petition for expungement must be filed in court in a process similar to the one for adult records. However, some juvenile records may not be eligible for expungement. For example, in Ohio, juvenile convictions for rape, murder and aggravated murder are never expunged. In Utah, a juvenile record cannot be expunged if the person has adult convictions for felonies or misdemeanors involving moral turpitude; has a pending felony or misdemeanor case; has not paid restitution; or has a juvenile conviction for murder or aggravated murder.

About the Author

Based on the West Coast, Mary Jane Freeman has been writing professionally since 1994, specializing in the topics of business and law. Freeman's work has appeared in a variety of publications, including LegalZoom, Essence, Reuters and Chicago Sun-Times. Freeman holds a Master of Science in public policy and management and Juris Doctor. Freeman is self-employed and works as a policy analyst and legal consultant.