Clearing Your Name: The Legal Process of Expungement

Is your criminal record haunting you? In the United States, an arrest or a conviction can remain on your permanent criminal record for years after you’ve paid your fines, served your sentence and completed your period of probation. Because your arrests, charges and convictions are a part of the public record, they can be accessed by any and all interested parties.

How an open criminal record can affect your life

When you apply for a new job, your potential employer can run a background check and pull up your criminal record. When you try to rent an apartment or take out a loan, the landlord and the lender can also examine your record. In fact, ex-convicts in the U.S. often find it difficult to get their lives back on track after serving their time because potential landlords, lenders, employers and college admissions boards find their arrest and conviction records and often end up rejecting them as a result.

Fortunately, U.S. state law also provides a way for the former criminal defendant and ex-convict to hide his arrests and convictions from the general public.

The basics of expungement

If you’ve been arrested, charged or convicted of a crime in the U.S. and have either had your charges dropped, been found not guilty or served your time, your criminal record may be eligible for sealing or expungement. This procedure effectively conceals arrests and convictions and allow the former defendant to advance his career and his life.

Every state in the U.S. has different laws relating to expungement, but generally speaking, you can qualify for the procedure as long as you have been cleared of all charges or have fulfilled any and all fines and sentences handed down by the court. Some states require a waiting period to elapse between the completion of your sentence and probation before you can apply for expungement. The specific requirements you’ll have to meet before successfully wiping your record depend upon two factors: the severity of your convictions and the laws in your particular state. Be sure to research your state laws and, if necessary, consult an attorney before applying to have your conviction expunged.

How to apply for expungement

Every state that allows for expungement will provide a petition for applicants to fill out and submit. You should be able to obtain the necessary documents at your local courthouse or sheriff’s office. You may have to pay an application fee when filing your petition.

Some states, such as Texas, require that you stand before a judge and argue your case to successfully have your record expunged. If you have to attend such a hearing, you should probably hire an attorney who has experience with your state’s expungement procedure and can make a strong argument in favor of clearing your record. Rejected applications for expungement can be appealed, usually within 30 days of the judge’s decision.

If you’ve been arrested but never convicted on any charges, you should be able to obtain a quick and painless expungement of your arrest.

Exceptions and loopholes

Expungement is a vital procedure for ex-convicts who want to live happy and successful lives. However, not all convictions are eligible for expungement. Some states don’t allow for the expungement of felonies, while others only bar serious felonies such as aggravated assault from expungement. A sex crime conviction cannot be expunged in any state.

It’s important to remember that the normal conviction expungement process doesn’t count as a complete destruction of your criminal record. If you successfully have your conviction expunged, it won’t be erased completely, but merely hidden, meaning that you can legally deny you’ve been convicted of a crime on job, loan and school applications and that, under normal circumstances, background checks will not reveal the conviction. If you apply for a job with law enforcement, however, your expunged record can be “unsealed” and taken into consideration by the police in that particular case. In many states, your expunged conviction can also be unsealed and used by prosecutors in court if you’re facing trial for a subsequent charge.

Under certain circumstances, you can have your criminal record completely erased, but this possibility is generally only available if your conviction was on a low-level misdemeanor charge, you were charged as a juvenile, or you were never convicted.

Don’t let your criminal record ruin your shot at a happy and productive life. If you have a charge or a conviction on your record that’s giving you trouble, do some research on your state’s expungement laws and try to get advice from an attorney who knows about the expungement process. The tiny amount of effort required to expunge your conviction is well worth the massive benefits of having an expunged criminal record.

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