Some states allow certain criminal convictions to be expunged under specific circumstances. Each state has its own rules regarding when and if to grant expungements, and most limit the types of criminal convictions that will be eligible for expungement.
If you have a criminal record, getting an expungement can have significant advantages. In most states, an expungement allows you to truthfully tell employers that you don't have a criminal record. However, despite these advantages, there remain important circumstances when an expungement is not enough to make it seem as if a crime never occurred.
In most cases, your criminal records are sealed when you get an expungement. However, the government still maintains evidence of your conviction and may use it against you in the narrow and specific circumstances allowed by state and federal law.
An expunged crime will continue to follow you in certain circumstances. Specifically, it may follow you in the following scenarios.
Many states will allow previous criminal convictions that have been expunged to be used in the prosecution or sentencing of a later arrest or conviction. For example, in some states, an expunged conviction can be used during the prosecution of the crime as evidence of prior behavior or a pattern of criminal behavior.
Similarly, many states allow evidence of expunged convictions to be used in sentencing. This is important because most states have lesser penalties or sentences for first-time criminals and enhanced penalties for people with prior convictions. This means if you receive an expungement but commit a crime in the future, the system will treat you as a repeat offender.
Certain government agencies may be able to access information about expunged convictions in some states. These state legislatures have reasoned that the public safety or the public good outweighs the burden imposed on you. For example, Florida allows the disclosure of information about expunged criminal records to the Florida Bar, the Department of Children and Families, the Board of Education, and law enforcement agencies.
If you have had a conviction expunged, you may also find that your records come into play if you face immigration or deportation proceedings. If you are not a U.S. citizen, even if you are living here legally, you can face deportation for committing a criminal offense.
Additionally, the federal government, which is responsible for conducting deportation hearings and other immigration matters, is not bound to honor state laws regarding expunged criminal records and may decide to deport a person who is not a U.S. citizen, even if they receive an expungement for the offense.
An arrest and conviction can change everything. Fines or jail time are the immediate concern, but a conviction will also mean a criminal record that can make it harder to find a job and housing for years to come. If you are thinking of requesting an expungement, contact a criminal defense attorney to talk about the first steps in the expungement process.