A felony drug charge can cause problems, both at the time a person is arrested and down the road. This can be true even in a case where the defendant is acquitted or where the case is dropped or dismissed before trial. The law does provide an escape hatch, and it's called expungement. But whether expungement is available in a particular case depends on a number of factors.
The Process of Expungement
Expungement is a process that wipes a person's public criminal record clean of some arrests, charges and even convictions. On the other hand, expungement is not available in every state for every offense, and it does not wipe the slate clean for all purposes.
The requirements for expungement, as well as its application, differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Some states, like New York, do not recognize expungement although sealing of adult criminal records is possible. Most states do have expungement in the codes, but they are far from uniform.
Reasons for Expungement
The purpose of expungement is to remove an arrest or charge from the view of employers, landlords and others who might hold it against the person. Anyone with a felony drug charge on her record knows that this is a black mark that may affect her chances at getting a job, gaining acceptance to college, obtaining a professional license, enjoying housing options or qualifying for loans.
The specific benefits of an expungement depend on state law. If the record a person hopes to expunge falls within the state expungement laws, it is a good idea to learn more about that opportunity.
Limitations of Expungement
While the existence of expungement is good news for anyone who has been held back by a felony drug charge from getting an apartment or finding a job, it does not apply in all situations. In most states, a person can have a charge expunged if the prosecutor decided to drop the case before it was filed, if the prosecutor dismissed the case during trial or if the person was acquitted after trial. A full pardon is usually also grounds for expungement.
Some states allow expungement of some felony drug charges. The first thing a person with a felony drug charge on her record should do is research the expungement law in his jurisdiction. An easy way of doing this is contacting the law enforcement agency responsible for the arrest or the local criminal court.
Procedure for Expunging a Felony Drug Charge
Given that expungement laws vary, the procedures for expunging a felony drug charge won't be the same across the country. If a person finds that his criminal charge can be expunged in his jurisdiction, he still must determine whether he is currently eligible to apply. Some laws require that the person complete his probation before applying. In others that allow expungement of convictions after jail time served, the person must wait a certain number of years to apply.
If the person is eligible to apply, he should follow the exact procedure in the codes and regulations. Often this involves filling out a petition form and filing it with the court, with copies to the law enforcement agency involved and the prosecutor’s office. Most require that the petitioner attach documents like the docket sheet from the drug charge, any notice that the case was dropped or dismissed, any acquittal or pardon and sometimes letters from an employer or other members of the community. The court schedules a hearing on the petition and makes a decision.
There is another path to getting a felony drug charge sealed in some states. It involves attending a drug diversion program or another type of intervention program. This may be more effective in some cases.
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