How to Clear My Criminal Background

By Karina C. Hernandez - Updated April 19, 2017
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prison tower image by Tracy Horning from Fotolia.com

You can clear your criminal record through an expungement with the help of online resources. Check your state and district court's websites for expungement forms and guidelines. These resources, along with a copy of your criminal record, can allow you to clear up your criminal background if your offenses qualify for expungement. Determine the specific requirements in your state and municipality.

Check Statutes for Expungement Requirements

Misdemeanors, some felonies, and dismissed cases may qualify for expungement if you meet the following general criteria:

  • A minimum number of years have passed since you got out of jail, since probation or parole ended, or since you finished paying your fine

    whichever occurred last. The waiting period varies and depends on the degree of conviction, but may be around five to 15 years.
    * You haven't been convicted or arrested since your criminal offense,

    with the exception of traffic citations. * You have paid all restitution owed and have no outstanding civil judgments against you. 

Fine the exact statutes on your state's official website; however, many states and courts also offer handbooks that detail expungement requirements in layman's terms.

Order Your Criminal Report

Since there isn't a universal report that covers your entire criminal background, you may have to contact various sources to obtain your complete criminal background. Serious crimes and some misdemeanors, if they involved fingerprinting, can be ordered from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. You can download the application form to request your FBI criminal history report on the bureau's website. You must mail the application with the $18 fee and an official fingerprint card to the address provided on the application.

If your crime was not sent to the FBI, contact the state or local law enforcement authority that handled your offense. Your state Department of Justice or state police department may also be able to direct you to the agency that has your criminal record. Be prepared to pay a fee, complete an application and provide identification to obtain a copy of your criminal records.

Clear Up Your Criminal Past

Once you have obtained the petition or motion for expungement from the state or court website where your conviction took place, you are ready to complete the paperwork and file for expungement. A petition requesting expungement typically includes the following information:

  • Identifying information: your full name; address, Social Security number and date of birth
  • Crime information: Offense, disposition or punishment, dates related to your case and incarceration, and case numbers
  • Reason for expungement: Confirm that you meet basic requirements and that you are providing all the necessary information and documents.
  • Verification: Verify statements made on the petition, adding your signature and a notarization.

Serve the petition and any supplemental paperwork, such as a criminal history, affidavits, and additional required expungement forms to the district attorney. There are also fees involved, which can vary widely among states and municipalities; however, if you qualify as low-income, you may receive a fee waiver. Wait for a hearing at which you must appear, or wait for the judge to grant the expungement, depending on how the process works in your municipality. In general, you can expect to wait several months for a response.

About the Author

Karina C. Hernandez is a licensed real estate agent since 2004 in San Diego. She has written legal articles pertaining to housing and real estate for multiple internet channels over the past 10 years. She has a B.A. in English from UCLA.

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