Criminal Law

Criminal Law: Expungement FAQ

If you're thinking of trying to have a criminal record expunged (erased) or sealed (hidden), it's important that you understand what may be expunged, as well as when and how. Get detailed information about Expungement and Record Sealing in your state .

Q: Are juvenile records expunged?

  • A:Most states have laws that allow, or even require, juvenile records to be expunged once the juvenile reaches a certain age. In some cases, the records are destroyed. Sometimes they are simply "sealed" or hidden from the public.

    In many states, juvenile records are sealed automatically and immediately. These laws allow a minor who has committed criminal or delinquent acts, to erase his record permanently, usually at the age of 17 or 18. The idea is to allow the youth offender to enter adulthood with a "clean slate," shielding him from the negative effects of having a criminal record.

    Be sure to check the laws in your state or talk to an attorney for details on expunging or sealing juvenile records in your state.

Q: Are records ever "automatically" expunged?

  • A:For adults, arrest and conviction records usually aren't automatically expunged or sealed after a period of years. You generally have to file a written application in court and follow various rules for expungement. These rules can be found in the laws of the statewhere the conviction or arrest was made.

    For juveniles, court and arrest records are usually sealed automatically once a juvenile is arrested and a trial or "adjudication" begins. However, in most states, juveniles must file a written application to later have their records expunged or destroyed.

Q: Can an expungment be denied?

  • A:Yes. Each statesets its own standards. Some factors which may contribute to a denial include:
    • Time period required by law has not been met. This time period often does not begin until all confinement and probation has been completed and fines are paid.
    • Additional convictions exists
    • A previous expungement exits
    • Pending arrest(s)
    • Conviction of a sexual offense
    • Registered sex offender
    • Court records indicate that the case is still open

Q: Can previously sealed records ever be unsealed?

  • A:Possibly. The terms "expungement" and "sealing" are often used interchangeably,but there are some differences. "Sealing" is when criminal records are hidden from the general public. "Expunging" means that the records are completely, physically destroyed.

    So, if the laws in your state don't allow for the destruction of the records, they may be unsealed in certain circumstances. For example, if the person arrested or convicted applies for a professional license (like a license to practice medicine or law), or if he's later charged with committing a crime. Your state laws should explain in detail when, how, and by whom sealed records may be unsealed.

Q: If my record is expunged, do I ever have to admit that I have a criminal record?

  • A:In most states, and with some limited exceptions, after your records are sealed or expunged, you may truthfully say that you were never arrested, charged, or accused of a crime. In the eyes of the law, the entire incident never happened. In most respects, a sealing or expungement restores you to the status you occupied before being arrested or charged.

    You should be aware that the federal government doesn't have to honor the expungement, nor does an expungement of a conviction necessarily relieve a person from having to disclose it in an application for public office or on some professional license applications.

Q: What can be expunged?

  • A:Generally, all records on file within any court, detention or correctional facility, law enforcement or criminal justice agency concerning a person's apprehension, arrest, or detention, or trial or or adjudication on a criminal offense can be expunged. However, each statehas rules about what can and can't be expunged.

    For example, in most states:

    • Arrests and convictions on serious, violent felonies usually can't be expunged or sealed
    • Expungement is available only for first-time misdemeanors or non-violent felonies
    • Fingerprints, photographs, and DNA evidence may be expunged

Q: What is expungement?

  • A:The terms "expungement" and "sealing" are often used interchangeably, but there are some differences. "Sealing" is when criminal records are hidden from the general public. "Expunging" a criminal record means the record is completely destroyed. It's as if the crime never happened.

    Each state has its own definition of expungement, based on different rules and laws. Some states may not use the term "expungement," but rather use terms like "expunction," "removal," or "destruction" of criminal records. And even if the term "expungement" is used, the records may not completely "disappear"and may still be available to law enforcement.

    Check the laws of your state to see if and when expungement is available and what happens to your criminal records. If you have any questions, talk to an experienced criminal law attorney.

Q: Who can get their court record expunged?

  • A:Eligibility for an expungement of arrest, investigation, or conviction records will be based on the laws of the state where the arrest or conviction happened.Often a number of conditions must be met before the request will be considered, including:
    • A minimum length of time has passed since the arrest or conviction
    • There hasn't been anymore arrests or convictions (other than minor traffic violations)
    • The criminal proceedings were dismissed
    • You were acquitted or found "not guilty" after a trial
    • You were discharged without conviction and no criminal charges were refiled
    • You were released before formal charges were filed
    • Any juvenile records have been expunged
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