Expungement can be a confusing term, because the law varies by state. In general, expungement means destroying the criminal record, and it is no longer available. It may be impossible to reverse expungement after the file has been destroyed because there is no record left. However, many people refer to sealing court records as expungement.
If your records are sealed, unsealing those records can be difficult, fortunately. There are limited situations when sealed criminal records can be made available to the public. Depending on the state, sealed records can be unsealed based on a motion from a third party or victim of your original offense. In other states, a judge may unseal your records if you commit the same offense later.
In most states, an expungement clears a criminal conviction from your public record. If you want to expunge a criminal record in most states, this will provide general information about what an expungement is and what it can do for you. Talk to an experienced criminal defense lawyer for legal advice in your specific situation and your eligibility for expungement.
Expungement is a court order to get rid of your criminal charges. Unfortunately, the term gets used in different ways, which can cause confusion for people looking to clear their names. Expungement is sometimes similar to the process of sealing your criminal record. Sealing a record does not destroy it, but that record is no longer available to public search.
The effect of expungement and a sealed record may be similar for most people. The arrest, charges, and conviction will no longer show up on most background checks. If a job or housing application asks if you were convicted, in most cases, you can answer "no." This can greatly improve your options after a mistake in your past.
In order to have your records sealed or expunged, there may be several restrictions and requirements. This may include going through a waiting period after you complete your sentence. Not all criminal offenses are eligible for expungement, including felonies like:
In states that allow you to expunge a conviction, a misdemeanor is more likely to be expungeable. You will need to check the laws of your state to determine what you are eligible for.
The benefit of a cleared criminal record is primarily for jobs, housing, and other issues that require a background check. Even if your criminal records are sealed, your prior criminal conviction can come back to haunt you. Police and the courts still have access to sealed records. If you are arrested on a similar charge in the future, the court will use your sealed record against you. Criminal charges with a prior conviction could have increased penalties. While this doesn't necessarily "reverse" your expungement, it will still hang around, and police and prosecutors are likely to use it against you.
One area of confusion may be in a California expungement. When expunging a criminal record in California, you can have your guilty plea changed to not guilty.
In California, this is available after you complete the terms of your probation. The criminal charge is neither expunged nor sealed. But, you can legally answer "no" when asked about a criminal record on an employment application.
In other states, an expungement does not mean changing a plea or a guilty conviction. Instead, it is used to clear defendants' records after sentencing. In most states, an expungement would not be reversed because the defendant already served their sentence. This is why it is important to distinguish between a standard expungement and expungement under California law.
In California, the term expungement is similar to a "conditional dismissal." It is for people who were granted probation. Probation is a type of supervised release granted as an alternative to incarceration. However, if you violate the terms of the probation agreement, you may have to go to jail. If you complete the terms of probation, you may be eligible for what lawyers refer to as a "1203.4 expungement," named after the law.
If you comply with the terms of the court and serve out your probation, you can apply for this type of expungement. If the court grants it, you can withdraw a guilty plea to enter a plea of not guilty, or the court will set aside a guilty verdict. You can also choose to request a certificate of rehabilitation and pardon.
People who are denied expungement can also petition for an expungement in limited circumstances. If you were denied probation but are no longer incarcerated, after waiting one year from the date of your conviction, you may be able to apply for this form of expungement. Again, you must fully comply with the terms of your sentence.
Whether you received an expungement or a record sealing, there are circumstances where a prior conviction could still harm you. If you are facing serious penalties for a criminal charge, you should talk to a criminal defense attorney right away.