Your criminal background report may be hindering your ability to secure employment, be admitted to school or even to obtain credit. Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to clean up your criminal background record to ensure that there is nothing holding you back from your goals.
Review Your Record
Obtain a copy of your criminal background record. Contact the courthouse in the jurisdiction where you were involved with the criminal system. If there are multiple jurisdictions involved, the records may be consolidated, or you may have to contact multiple jurisdictions. once you have you record, check it carefully for errors. Many times there are mistakes on your criminal background report, which you can correct without court involvement. These are often the easiest things to remove from your record, so you should address them first. Check to make sure the charges, the dispositions, and all names and dates are correct. If there is an error, contact the clerk's office in the jurisdiction that handled the matter for advice. The clerk's office can remove certain errors, while the prosecutor's office must handle others.
File for Expungement
If you were found not guilty of the offense and charges against you were dismissed, you can generally apply for an expungement. You might also be able to expunge any eligible convictions, such as minor alcohol and traffic violations, where you pled guilty and have completed your probation. These rules vary by state. Contact the criminal department of your local courthouse to determine whether any of your convictions might be eligible and what the process is for getting your record expunged. If the expungement is granted, the conviction will still appear on your criminal record but there'll be a note added that the judge dismissed the case in the interests of justice.
Reduce the Seriousness of the Crime
Some states will reduce a felony conviction to a misdemeanor if it's a "wobbler," meaning the crime could be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. If you were sentenced to the county jail, call the court and see if your can get your felony crime reduced. Similarly, some petty misdemeanors can be reduced to infractions on application to the court. Offenses such as driving without a license or disturbing the peace may be reduced to infractions on your record, which is the least serious criminal offense.
File a Motion for Factual Innocence
If you were arrested for some reason but were never actually charged with a crime, you may be able to have the arrest completely wiped from your record. The relevant petition is called a Motion for Factual Innocence. Procedures vary by state but generally, you can file a motion within two years of the arrest.
- Be patient when dealing with courthouse personnel, they often have a wealth of information but it sometimes takes a while to find the right people to help you with your problem. Cases move slowly through the court system, and it is important that you are diligent with following up on your expungement paperwork. If you have prior expungements on your record, you may not be eligible to have additional charges expunged from your criminal background.
K. Lynn Wallace attended the University of the Arts and University of Baltimore Law school and is now an attorney in Maryland. She has a general litigation practice and has been a writer since 2009. She has served on the editorial board of the "University of Baltimore Intellectual Property Journal."