Depending on where you live, arrests and convictions on your record may qualify for expungement, which essentially removes or seals the record from public view. Each jurisdiction has its own procedures to file a petition for expungement. Learn yours and complete the necessary forms. Expungement can offer a fresh start and help you land a job or housing more easily, but certain entities, like law enforcement agencies, may still be able to view your criminal record even after expungement.
Find Out Before Filing
Find out the expungement process in your area through the criminal court or the arresting agency before filing on your own. Eligibility criteria for expungement varies by state and jurisdiction. Before filing, find out whether you have an eligible arrest or conviction. For example, 20 states allow felony expungement, including California, New York and Florida, while other states may only expunge misdemeanor convictions and arrests. Find out whether you must first complete your sentence and probation before asking for expungement and whether police departments, judges and licensing boards can view expunged records. Some courts make it easier to file a petition for expungement without a lawyer by providing petition forms on the court website and instructional booklets.
Completing the Petition
Petition forms have various titles, depending on the state. For example, in North Carolina, you must complete a Petition and Order of Expungement, and in Oregon, it's a Motion to Set Aside Conviction With the Court. You must complete a petition form for each case, so if you have multiple arrests or convictions to expunge, fill out and file multiple petitions. In general, you need the following information to complete a petition:
- personal identifying information, such as driver's license number, Social Security number, full name and address, and birthdate
- case information, such as date of arrest, offense and conviction, case number, and the charge or description of the offense
- valid grounds or reasons for expungement, which vary by jurisdiction, including dismissal of the case, not-guilty decision or completion of a drug or mental health program
Filing the Form
You may need to provide supplemental information and paperwork, such as arrest and criminal records, a case summary, and affidavits and statements when filing. You might also need multiple copies of the petition – one for each entity involved, such as the agencies named in the petition and the state attorney. You typically must file with the court where your case concluded. You may have to pay a nonrefundable filing fee that can be waived if you meet certain financial hardship requirements. A filing fee might not apply when expunging certain cases, such as an acquittal or not-guilty verdict. Fees can vary widely by state and agencies. For example, the filing fee in Maryland is $30, and in Oregon, it's $252.
Processing the Petition
Processing times vary by jurisdiction and demand, as some departments may be backlogged. In Florida, for example, it takes an average of five to seven months from start to finish. In Maryland, it takes approximately three months – the state attorney requires 30 days to process the petition, plus another 60 days for each law enforcement agency involved to complete the expungement process. Appeals or objections to the expungement by the state attorney or law enforcement agencies can delay an expungement and require you to attend a hearing.