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If you have a criminal record, you know how much having that in your background can impact your life going forward. Having a record can affect the employment and housing you can get, and can even influence custody and visitation rights with your children.
Fortunately, there may be ways for you to get your records hidden, so they don’t continue to hang over your head long after your sentence has been served. Some states will allow expungement in certain circumstances, which effectively erases the crime from your record.
Expungement is a process that essentially wipes away an arrest or conviction from your background record to the public. Except for rare circumstances, such as having a criminal sex offense conviction and applying for a job working with children, your expunged record will never be seen again on routine background checks.
In the eyes of the law, an expunged crime has basically never happened. In most cases, you can legally state that you’ve never been convicted of a crime if that crime has been expunged. There are some exceptions for certain public office positions or professional license applications, which may require you to disclose even an expunged conviction or arrest. Typically, positions that require disclosure of an expungement will tell you so, and likewise, many positions that don’t require disclosure of expungement will state that.
However, an expunged record may still be accessible to certain government agencies, criminal courts, and some law enforcement. In addition, if the record is recorded by a third-party, other than the courts, it may still appear in certain searches.
Expungement must be done through state courts, and only certain jurisdictions or states will allow it. New York, for example, does not allow for expungement; Maine and North Dakota only allow expungement for specific cases. As a result, your first step would be to find out if your state allows for expungement of your type of crime in the first place.
Juvenile cases are the most likely to be expunged in a majority of states. Juvenile crimes are typically the only ones that a court will automatically expunge without a petition— in most states, juvenile records are automatically expunged when you turn 18.
Next, you would need to petition the court for your expungement. It will be up to the judge’s discretion to decide if your case should be expunged.
Factors that a judge is most likely to consider when deciding your expungement include the type of crime, how long ago it occurred, the length of your criminal record before or since that crime, and if you’ve had a crime expunged before.
Being able to show a clean record since that crime or arrest is one of your best arguments for expungement. You may also be required to explain why you need your record expunged.
Certain crimes are more likely to be expunged than others. “Petty crimes” such as minor thefts, trespassing, and disorderly conduct are more likely to be expunged than violent crimes, for example. However, that doesn’t mean it’s always impossible to get more severe criminal convictions expunged.
To improve your chances of getting a record expunged, you should consult with a criminal defense attorney. An attorney will be able to counsel you on your options and help you determine your eligibility for expungement. With their experience, they can argue on your behalf to persuade the court why you should be granted an expungement.
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified criminal defense lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact an attorney in your area from our directory to discuss your specific legal situation.