Expungement is a court-ordered process in which the record of an arrest or a conviction is erased in the eyes of the law. After a criminal record is expunged, an ex-convict does not need to disclose his past offense when filling out an application for a job or apartment nor will it appear if a potential employer or educational institution conducts a public records inspection. Besides information that might exist at the local and state level, the FBI has its own repository for all criminal records and arrests in the U.S.
Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS)
The FBI’s central repository for criminal records is the Criminal Justice Information Services division. This department receives dispositions from all criminal justice agencies in the U.S. including state criminal history repository, arresting agencies (police departments, state police and correctional facilities), courts and federal agencies (such as the Drug Enforcement Agency and ATF). In effect, this repository holds all of the data regarding criminal records in the U.S.
Methods of Expungement at the CJIS
While the CJIS holds lots of data on criminals, it has no authority to expunge it. Rather, the CJIS only can expunge a criminal record when receiving an expungement request from the controlling legal authority. On the state level, these requests may be submitted via MRD (machine-readable data) tape. Otherwise, they must be submitted via paper disposition forms.
Required Details for Court-Ordered Expungement
An expungement may be a deletion of a single arrest, conviction or a criminal’s entire record. Though each state has unique forms for submitting expungement requests, the documents always contain the offender’s name, date of birth (or FBI number), expungement action (e.g., delete, expunge or purge), date of arrest, charges to be removed, copy of court order and the state bureau stamp or letterhead.
Criteria for Expungement
A court’s decision of whether to grant expungement depends on several criteria such as the amount of time since the arrest or conviction, the severity and nature of the offense and the offender’s criminal record before and since the event. Arrests and convictions for juveniles are generally easier to expunge whereas sex crimes are far more difficult.
Expungement of CJIS files Vs. FBI Case Files
The records at the CJIS are separate and distinct from other FBI files that are kept on people of interest. For example, in the 1960s, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI opened files on celebrities such as Sammy Davis, Jr., and John Lennon even though they violated no federal laws. Today, there are suspects on terrorist watchlists who have no criminal records (at least for now). Not only is it not possible to expunge these files, but much of the information in these documents is not available to the public (including the people under observation).