The procedure for getting a charge removed from a criminal record is called expungement or dismissal. The rules of the process are governed by each state, so they will vary widely. All states will allow expungement of charges that did not lead to a conviction, though there might be a time requirement. If you were convicted, you will probably be subject to other restrictions related to the nature of the crime and the completion of probation or other terms of the sentence.
Get a copy of your criminal record. If you're not sure what's on your arrest record, finding out is the first step. This can be a time-consuming process of requesting records from every jurisdiction in which you've been charged. To protect the privacy of criminal records, this involves physically appearing at the law enforcement agency and submitting your fingerprints. For a federal criminal record, submit a Freedom of Information Request with the FBI. In any event, the record will most likely will be mailed to you a few weeks later.
Determine eligibility. Depending on the state laws, there will probably be restrictions on eligibility for having a charge removed. In some states, you are immediately eligible if you were not convicted, but in others you might have to wait a few years. If you were convicted, most violent or sexual crimes or crimes involving a minor cannot be expunged. Even for qualifying crimes, you will have to have satisfactorily completed the terms of your sentence, including probation or community service, before becoming eligible. In some states, simply satisfying the requirements is enough to proceed, while in others you will have to apply for a Certificate of Eligibility with the state's law enforcement agency.
File petition for expungement. The petition for expungement is usually a straighforward form document that will require you to identify yourself and assert that you meet the requirements for eligibility. A judge might request a hearing on your petition, but in most cases, records are expunged based on meeting the eligibility criteria.
- Even after having a record expunged, government agencies can still access your full record and will do so if you apply for a job that requires security clearance. In these cases, it's suggested to admit you had a charge expunged if asked.
- Having a charge expunged from your record will probably not affect rights you might have lost as a result of a conviction, such as the right to vote or own a firearm. Many states do not allow employers to ask about arrests that did not lead to conviction. But even in these states, if you are asked about a conviction, you must answer in the affirmative but can state that the conviction was dismissed.