Expungement involves the destruction or sealing of a criminal record after the expiration of a certain time period or when an arrest is unlawful or does not result in a conviction. Initiated through a court process, the result of expungement is that a person's criminal history is, for most purposes, erased.
Most states provide for expungment (also known as expunction), but the law varies from state to state. Expungement is often available for persons who were arrested of crimes but not convicted, and, in certain circumstances, for persons convicted of a juvenile crime, a misdemeanor, or a minor felony offenses. Especially for convictions, most states require that the offense is a first-time offense and most states require a waiting period.
The benefits from an expungement can be numerous. When seeking a job, housing, or a professional license, an applicant who has his or her criminal record sealed or destroyed can, in some states, legally assert that he or she has no criminal history. Generally, if a record has been expunged, a background search by an employer, educational institution, or a government agency of an individual's public records will not reveal a conviction or arrest. Expungement or sealing of a record is becoming increasingly important in the internet-age, given the ease of access to public information.
Many factors will influence what type of relief is available through expungement, including whether the offender was a juvenile or adult, whether the conviction was for a misdemeanor or felony, and the degree of an offender's sentence.
In the laws of many states, expungement does not literally erase a criminal record and disclosure of the criminal conviction is required under certain circumstances. Moreover, the expungement may be used to enhance a sentence if the person is subsequently convicted of another crime.
Under most circumstances, a person's arrest and conviction records will not be expunged automatically; rather, a person has to apply for expungement, follow the local or state procedural rules, and pay a fee. Often, if a person is convicted of a crime, there is a statutory waiting period before expungement may be granted. However, if a person is acquitted (or found not guilty) of a criminal charge, most states grant that person the right to have the records sealed immediately.