Criminal Law

What Is the Difference Between Expungement and a Dismissal?

There is a big difference between an expungement and a dismissal. An expungement occurs after someone is convicted of a crime or a juvenile offense. An expungement will get rid of the criminal record so it will not show up to the public in a background check. A dismissal gets rid of the charges before a conviction ever happens.

If you were already convicted of a crime and sentenced, expunging your record can help you move forward and open up opportunities. If you are charged with a crime, there may still be a chance to get the charges dismissed. Talk to an experienced criminal defense lawyer about your options for preserving your freedom and your reputation.

What Is Expungement?

Expungement is the legal process of having a conviction erased from your criminal record. After the court grants an expungement petition, the physical record of your criminal case may be destroyed or sealed. Depending on the state you live in, you may also be able to have the arrest cleared from your record.

Sealing your record is sometimes referred to as an expungement. The process depends on state law, and some states only allow for expungement in limited situations. Sealing records is more common and has a similar effect. With a sealed record, your file is kept out of public records as well.

Do Expunged Crimes Show Up on a Background Check?

For basic background checks, expunged records should not show up on a criminal history search. This may include background checks for jobs, housing, or certain licenses. Similarly, a background check will not show sealed records. For most purposes, you can claim you were not convicted of a crime after your records are sealed.

Some jobs and licenses do require you to disclose criminal charges, even if they were expunged. More in-depth background checks may also be able to determine if you had records sealed or erased. This generally applies to government checks, professional licensing, or law enforcement jobs.

What Is a Criminal Dismissal?

A dismissal is the process to have criminal charges dropped or dismissed from court. Dismissal can take place any time between an arrest and conviction. There are many reasons why cases may be dismissed. A judge can dismiss a case on their own, but dismissal usually happens through a motion from the defendant's attorney.

If you've been arrested, a motion to dismiss the charges is filed by your defense lawyer. They may file this motion during the arraignment, during preliminary hearings, or during the trial. Possible grounds for dismissal include:

In some cases, only some charges may be dismissed, while the prosecution can continue to press ahead on others. For example, as part of a plea deal, the prosecutor may agree to dismiss one charge to get a guilty plea for the other charges. This is a common way for prosecutors to get a plea agreement, by dropping some of the more serious charges to entice the defendant to plead guilty.

Is a Dismissal Part Of Your Criminal Record?

Depending on the search and the way the dismissal was handled, it could show up in some background checks. The arrest and charges may still be part of your criminal record, even if you were not convicted of a crime. This may show up in background checks for a job or mortgage application.

Record Sealing After Dismissal

You may be able to petition to have your record sealed after the charges were dropped. If granted, most background checks will no longer show the arrest or criminal charges. This can open up more opportunities and clear your name. However, not all charges may be eligible for expungement.

The process for expungement after dismissal depends on the state. There may be a waiting period before you can apply to have the arrest or dismissed charges erased. Talk to your lawyer about the process for sealing records or expungement. It generally involves:

  • Filing a petition with the court
  • Payment of filing fees
  • Getting a background check
  • Undergoing prosecutor review and judicial review

Criminal Defense Attorneys For Dismissal and Expungement

Many people are surprised to learn that their arrest shows up on a background check even if the charges were dismissed. Just being arrested can still leave a negative impression, and explaining what happened may not be enough to clear your name. Getting your charges dismissed and expunging your criminal record can help you avoid the consequences of an arrest. A criminal defense attorney can help you file a petition to clear your public record.