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When looking at criminal records, expungement is simply the process of erasing the crime from that record. Once it has been expunged, it will not come up if an employer does a background check, for example.

What Is Expungement?

Expungement, from the root word “expunge” (to erase, to remove), refers to a legal process in which an individual seeks to have their past crimes — whether misdemeanors, felonies or both — removed from the public record.

Common Reasons for Expungement

The vast majority of individuals looking to seal or expunge their criminal record are job-seekers. When faced with a job application, or an employment interview, which poses the common question concerning any past criminal offenses, expungement can be vital to getting the job.

It can be difficult getting hired in any sector if interviewers are presented with a less-than-ideal criminal history. Many people are highly motivated to make sure they’re making the best possible impression — making expungement a popular legal option for some.

Can You Get a Misdemeanor Expunged?

Contrary to popular belief, you can have both misdemeanors and felonies expunged from your criminal record. There are some exceptions, however, and these typically vary under different jurisdictions, from state to state.

Sex crimes, for example, as well as particularly violent or repeated offenses may be exempt from expungement. Considerations for expungement include:

  • The severity of your past crimes
  • The length of time that has elapsed since your arrests or convictions
  • The status of completion in regard to your sentencing

All of the above will be considered by those ruling on any potential expungement. The most successful expungement cases have at least one thing in common, however. You must already have served the entirety of your sentence. In certain situations, serving your prison or jail term and the bulk of the probation may also open up your eligibility to file for expungement.

In California, for instance, you cannot ask for an expungement if you are currently serving time on probation. You must wait until the probation period is over.

However, this does not mean you are without options. You could go to the court and file a Motion to Terminate Probation. If the court grants your request, your probation is canceled and you are then eligible to ask for an expungement. As you can see, it is very important to know about all of your legal options in every situation.

Types of Misdemeanors That May Be Expunged

Some of the misdemeanors that you have a better chance of expunging from your record include:

  • Vandalism
  • Driving under the influence
  • Possession of marijuana
  • Petty theft
  • Disorderly conduct

It is important to note that some crimes can fall into either category. For example, your first DUI is likely to be a misdemeanor. If you get multiple DUIs, however, you could be given a felony DUI. Not only does this charge come with a stiffer sentence, but it also may be harder to erase from your record.

Expungement Laws By State

State laws vary greatly in how expungement requests are handled.

Texas, for example, refers to expungement of a record as “expunction,” and it is impossible to acquire expunction following a conviction unless you have been pardoned for the crime beforehand. Arrests without conviction, or convictions for which you were later deemed innocent, do qualify for expunction. In other cases, an order of nondisclosure, effectively sealing the record, may be called for.

On the other hand, in Colorado, it is almost impossible to seal or expunge a past crime from your record — barring exceptions such as offenses involving controlled substances, DUIs or petty crime.

Understanding that each state has extremely particular laws regarding expungement is important when conducting the initial research for your case. An attorney familiar with expungement law in your state can be invaluable when deciding whether or not you have a viable chance at clearing your criminal record.

Can a Federal Crime Be Expunged?

Despite several congressional attempts being made, including the Second Chance Act, the Fresh Start Act and the REDEEM Act, at providing a legal framework for expungement at the federal level, no law has yet been passed to support expungement of crimes on the federal level.

Regardless, in certain limited cases expungement of a person’s criminal record has been upheld by particular federal circuits, though this is exceedingly rare. Often, if you are convicted of federal crimes, you are advised to instead seek a pardon, rather than an expungement, to clear your criminal record.

Because pardons are not common, the vast majority of remediations to individual criminal records are achieved at the state level, under state law.

How to Get a Record Expunged

Speaking to a qualified expungement lawyer is the first step in achieving a cleaner criminal record. The legal process and often hard-to-navigate channels can be extremely daunting on your own, and experienced expungement lawyers might be able to help. While there will be a cost associated with retaining expert legal advice when taking your case to court, a knowledgeable attorney can make the process much more manageable.

Facing the prospect of job-seeking with a criminal record being available to prospective employers can be anxiety-inducing, frustrating and perhaps depressing. Seeking strong legal counsel with a track record of successful expungement cases can help you get back on your feet, with a fresh start.

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