Expunging Criminal Records
A criminal record can have a significant effect on your future even after you serve your sentence. For example, it is legal for certain employers to refuse to hire people with a criminal history. Landlords can also deny renting a house or apartment to you.
If you have a criminal record, there are steps that you can take to minimize how convictions might affect you in the future. Specifically, you can seek to have your criminal records expunged.
Expungement is a legal process whereby your criminal records are sealed. In most cases, this means you won’t have to disclose your criminal record when applying for a job or housing. The details, however, may vary from state to state, so make sure to research the laws of your specific state to verify what applies in your case.
When you get an expungement, your records are sealed, but that doesn’t mean the record will be destroyed. Certain government agencies, criminal courts, and law enforcement bodies will still be able to access your records., but a potential employer or landlord will not be able to see it.
Even though your record is “sealed,” it may sometimes be used in certain legal proceedings. For instance, if you receive an expungement and are then convicted of another crime, the judge may use your expunged conviction during sentencing.
Each state has the authority to determine when and if to expunge a criminal record. There is a wide variety of laws among the states about which records may be expunged. These include states that:
- Do not allow any records to be expunged
- Allow expungement for people with only one conviction
- Limit expungements to nonviolent crimes
To qualify for an expungement, you generally need to complete your sentence and have stayed out of legal trouble for a certain length of time.
For more information about the expungement of criminal records in your jurisdiction, you should visit your state criminal courts website or speak to a local criminal defense attorney.
Expungements do not happen automatically. If you have a criminal record, you must specifically request an expungement. Although the process varies depending on the state, it generally follows the following steps:
- You must complete and submit an application requesting the expungement
- You should explain why you should receive an expungement and how you qualify
- Pay the application fee
Since an expungement proceeding is not a trial, you don’t have a constitutional right to an attorney. However, as in any legal proceeding, you can decide to hire an attorney at your own expense. Given the importance of expungement to your future employment and reputation, you should strongly consider hiring a lawyer who
understands the process and can help you prepare to answer any questions.
Whether a court will grant your expungement request depends on several factors. These include:
- The nature of the crime you were charged with
- Whether the state allows expungement
- The time that passed since your arrest
- Successful rehabilitation
Generally, you can maximize your chances of having your records expunged if you can explain why you need the records expunged and if you can demonstrate that you have been successfully rehabilitated since the time of your conviction. For example, the court will typically consider if you want the record expunged so that you can become gainfully employed and if you have taken specific steps to stay out of trouble since the time of your conviction.
Having a criminal record can have significant barriers when applying for housing, jobs, education, and more. Since the laws on expungement are complex and vary depending on the jurisdiction, it’s a good idea to speak to a criminal defense attorney who can give you tailored legal advice.
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