Criminal Law

Is There a Difference Between an Expungement and a Pardon?

After someone is convicted of a crime, they may look for ways to clear their record in the future. It may be too late to avoid a criminal record, but there are ways to clear your name and get a fresh start. Expungement and pardons are two post-conviction relief options that can help offenders have more opportunities.

Pardons and expungement are often confused. It is important to understand the differences between a pardon and expungement so you can pursue the right option for your case. After a criminal conviction, talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney for legal help with expungements or pardons.

Is a Pardon Different From Expungement?

Expungement and pardons are two different processes. An expungement is a way to seal your criminal offense from most public searches. A pardon relieves someone convicted of a crime from penalties, including jail time. A person with expunged records can claim they do not have a criminal conviction on their record. Someone with a pardon is forgiven but still carries a criminal record.

Seeking an expungement is common for people convicted of low-level offenses, especially for juveniles or young offenders. A pardon is extremely rare. Only the president can pardon someone convicted of federal offenses. State pardons are generally only granted by governors, other executive officers, or pardon boards.

What Is Expungement?

Expungement is a process to have charges on your criminal history sealed. The criminal conviction is generally sealed from public access. State or federal criminal charges can be expunged, but each state has its own process for sealing your record. Sealing criminal records and expungement are often used interchangeably. However, sealing criminal records and expungement can be separate things in some states.

Depending on the state, you may also be able to have the arrest expunged, whether it ended in a conviction, acquittal, or the charges were simply dropped or dismissed. There are generally several requirements to have your record expunged, which may include:

  • A waiting period after the completion of your sentence
  • Avoiding new criminal charges
  • Only juvenile offenders are eligibile
  • The individual was a victim of trafficking
  • Only petty offenses, infractions, or misdemeanors are eligible

Depending on the state, serious felony criminal charges may not be eligible for expungement. Some states have record sealing eligibility for minor drug possession charges but not for drug sales or trafficking. Sex offenses, homicide, and violent crimes are also not likely eligible for expungement.

Do I Have To Admit To a Criminal Record After an Expungement?

On a job application or rental agreement, the form may ask if you have been convicted of a crime. Generally, if your charges were expunged, you can say you do not have a criminal history. Employers may be limited in what questions they can ask you about offenses that were expunged.

However, some jobs or professional licenses require disclosure of any criminal arrest or conviction, including expunged convictions. This includes positions that involve public service, security, or positions of trust. For example, lawyers, police officers, and teachers may be required to disclose any expungements. Consult your attorney about whether your state requires disclosure of sealed criminal charges.

What Is a Criminal Pardon?

A pardon is like forgiving someone convicted of a crime. A pardon does not clear your record, and you are still considered to be a criminal offender. However, the pardon relieves you from any further penalties. If someone in prison is pardoned, they will generally be released from custody. Commutations are similar, but they only reduce the sentence instead of pardon the defendant for the crime.

The process for a pardon depends on the state. In some states, the governor can issue pardons. In other states, a pardon board made up of officials determines if you receive a pardon. For federal offenses, only the president of the United States can issue pardons.

In most cases, a convict will petition for a pardon, making their case why they should be pardoned of their crimes. The basis for clemency may include:

  • Good conduct after sentencing
  • The offense was relatively minor
  • The offense would no longer be considered a crime
  • The offender is elderly or in poor health
  • An early release would serve criminal justice
  • The offender accepts responsibility and expresses remorse

How a pardon affects your criminal record depends on your state. In some states, a pardon acts similar to sealing records or expungement, and your public criminal record will be clear. In other states, your criminal record may remain after a pardon.

Criminal Defense Attorney Help For Pardons and Record Sealing

A criminal conviction does not have to ruin your future. An expungement can help your job prospects by clearing your public criminal record. A pardon or commutation can get you out of jail earlier than your sentence. If you have questions about post-conviction relief, contact an experienced lawyer for help.