It is a little known fact that in many states, some people have the option to “expunge” their criminal record. Now, what does this mean exactly? Expungement is the legal process by which a person with a criminal record may petition to the Court to erase or seal their record in the eyes of the law. A commonly used term for this is also “setting aside a criminal conviction”.
However in many states, such as Minnesota, a criminal record cannot be “erased” but it may be “sealed” to a certain extent. Sealing your criminal record translates to your record still being there, the arrest still being there but the conviction is considered set aside and sealed.
Although it is pretty much impossible to completely “erase” your criminal record; successful completion of the expungement process can absolutely change a person’s life and open opportunities for them that they did not have before the expungement. A person who was formerly not eligible for many jobs, careers or even traveling to other countries may now enjoy a significant increase in those opportunities.
Now for the fine print. Who exactly is eligible for expungement of their criminal record?
The short answer is that most states have different rules for this procedure. Juveniles and sex offenders may have to go through a separate expungement process with stricter or more forgiving regulations; depending on the state and the circumstances.
With most other criminal charges, factors will be taken into account on a case by case basis. These factors generally include but are not limited to;
- How much time has passed since the conviction
- Was the crime violent or non-violent
- Were children involved
- Other criminal charges on a record; including convictions in other jurisdictions. A repeat offender may have less likelihood of having their record expunged unless there has been an extremely significant amount of time since the last crime and enough evidence that the criminal has been rehabilitated.
The Expungement Process
Again, each state will have its own process but will all most likely start with a petition to the Court which can generally be found on a state’s unified court system website. Many states have different terminology for this process such as the expungement of records, cleaning your record with a dismissal, and some states like setting aside a conviction.
When filing your petition; a court will most likely have a list of documents that they required attached to the petition. You must be as accurate as possible and include all of these documents or your petition will be denied very quickly. As with most other legal pleadings and paperwork; a Judge will generally have his or her clerk check the document for accuracy and completeness before the Judge even looks at it. If anything is missing you will get it back in the mail with a letter detailing what you have left out.
It is often helpful to also check with your county district attorney’s office to see if you have to have approval from the district attorney to even proceed with the petition as some states require this additional step.
The Court may or may not also issue a hearing date for you to appear before a judge, again depending on the jurisdiction.
If you have successfully been awarded expungement of a criminal conviction or multiple convictions on your record; then the Court will issue an Order signed by a judge that you will want to file with your local county clerk’s office. In most states the filing of this order will be free. It is also beneficial and many times necessary to get certified copies of the Order. This usually costs an additional fee at the county clerk’s office.
Once the order has been filed; it will then be necessary to serve the certified copies unto any agencies that have a copy of your record on file so that they may seal it in their offices.
These agencies may include but are not limited too;
- The arresting agency and the booking agency (the police, state troopers or sheriff’s department and the county jail)
- The state department of corrections (this will seal your records while serving any prison sentences)
Beware of the fine print
Expungement does not automatically end any parole, probation or reporting mandates that may be placed on criminals or sex offenders. If you are a registered sex offender and are required to report to your local agency on a periodic basis then you are still ordered to do so. Be clear with your probation or parole officer and ask them how to proceed.
Get a Free Legal Review of Your Expungement Process
Obviously, this is a long and complicated process that you would be better to trust an attorney to walk you through. It is always wise to at least go for a consultation with an attorney that specializes in expungement. Many attorneys even have free consultations.