How to Clean Up My Public Criminal Record

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Your criminal record may pose a substantial obstacle to getting a job, international travel, or engaging in many other activities that most people take for granted. Expunging or sealing your public criminal record allows you to regain those privileges. Your criminal record is composed of two elements. Your arrest record documents any occasion the police take you into custody. Your court record documents any trial where you have been charged with a crime. This information stays on your record regardless of outcome (e.g acquittal) and, as such, may tarnish your reputation.

Run a background check on your arrest records. Visit your local police department and ask them to conduct a criminal records search. The search may be performed by either a city, county, or state branch of law enforcement. A courthouse may also have your arrest records but only if your arrest resulted in a trial. If a trial occurred, you will need to take additional measures discussed in Step 3. Come in person to request a background check as the police may need to confirm your identity before they run a search. They usually cannot fulfill requests online.

Check for arrests in other jurisdictions. If no arrest records turn up locally, they may exist in another jurisdiction. Send a written request to the Criminal Justice Information Services Division of the FBI. The CJIS is a repository for all police arrest reports in the U.S. Along with the $18 fee, provide them with a fingerprint sample and satisfactory proof of your identity (name, place and date of birth).The fingerprint sample may be acquired through L1 Identity Solutions which collects and submits prints for the FBI. The FBI will send back any information in their database within 12 weeks.

Obtain your court records if your arrest resulted in a criminal charge. File a petition with the Clerk's Office in the jurisdiction in which you were tried. If you have been tried in separate jurisdictions (e.g. Texas and California), you will need file separate petitions. If no records have turned up by this point, your record is clean. Do not proceed beyond this step.

File a petition with the courthouse Clerk's Office in the appropriate jurisdiction (or jurisdictions) to seal or expunge your arrest and/or court records. Expungement laws vary by state. In cases where an arrest does not result in a trial, the request usually will be granted. Trials that result in acquittal also may be expunged in many cases. If a trial results in a conviction, sealing or expunging the record become significantly more difficult. In certain cases, a single misdemeanor or felony may be possible to expunge. However, sex crimes are almost never possible to remove as well as Class A felonies such as homicide.

Consider applying for an executive pardon if your case cannot be removed from your criminal record. For state offenses, you may seek a pardon via the governor's office in whose state the crime occurred. For federal offenses, the decision goes all the way to the oval office. In order to stand a realistic chance of receiving a pardon, provide extensive personal information, the circumstances of your rehabilitation, and affidavits from people who can attest to your good character.


  • For best results, hire an attorney to assist you with filing of expungement petitions and related matters. Cleaning up your criminal record may require substantial knowledge of the legal system.



About the Author

Noel Lawrence has written on cultural affairs and cinema for Release Print and OtherZine since 2000. He holds a graduate degree in Russian literature from Stanford University and currently lives in Los Angeles.

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