Whether you can expunge a misdemeanor conviction from your criminal records depends solely on the laws of the state where you were convicted. Some states do not allow expungement of any records of misdemeanor convictions, such as New York, while other states allow expungement of some misdemeanor convictions depending on the crime, such as California. If expungement is available to you, it is an opportunity you should pursue. An expungement--also called "sealing" or a "dismissal"--of your criminal record will provide several benefits. The most important benefits are you don't have to disclose the conviction on most employment applications, and you can remove a barrier to obtaining housing.
Locate your state's information regarding expungement of criminal records. FindLaw.com has an overview of expungement laws in each state, but for your case a good starting point is the clerk's office for the court where you were convicted. In some states, such as New Jersey, you can obtain a packet of information on the state's expungement eligibility requirements and procedures, including required court forms. In other states, such as California, this information may be found on the state court website.
Locate and obtain the pre-printed court forms used in your state for expungement requests. The clerk's office can provide you with information on whether such forms are required and where to obtain them. In California, you can download the forms from the Judicial Council website. If your state does not have a required form for use, you should contact your state or county law library for information on the general format for motions or petitions filed with the court requesting expungement. For Montana state courts, this information is available online.
Prepare the court form or your own drafted petition for expungement with information necessary to request an expungement order from the court. This should include all the information about your conviction, from arrest to completion of your sentence or probation, so the court has all the necessary information about your case. Also, include a specific request that you want the record of the conviction expunged.
File the document you prepared with the clerk of court at the courthouse where you were convicted. A fee may be required to file the document, depending upon the rules of your court. In most cases, a hearing date will be set by the clerk for your expungement request.
Appear for the court hearing on the date set by the clerk. You should anticipate questions from the judge about your case, including why you should have your record expunged.
- Even if you are able to obtain a court order to expunge your criminal record, be aware that this does not automatically mean the record can never be found. Your criminal record will include the court's hard copy case file, as well an electronic form of the information in the court's database. Also, the law enforcement agency will have its own hard copy file of your arrest and its own database in electronic form. To what degree any or all of these records are destroyed after your expungement order is made will also depend on your state's laws. If you consult with an attorney regarding expungement, you should ask about the state's requirement for destruction of all these records.
- Expungement laws vary so widely among the states that this is an area of law where you should seek the advice of an attorney to determine your options. For example, in some states you may be required to serve copies of your expungement request on your prosecutor's office, the law enforcement agency that arrested you or the central repository for criminal records in your state.
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