Does Expungement Really Work?

Expungement is a legal term that has a rather simple meaning – it means that a court process has sealed a criminal conviction so that the public doesn’t have access to it.

If you have any former convictions on felonies or misdemeanors, having your case or cases expunged is usually considered a good tactical move. Particularly if your offenses occurred when you were younger – say you were convicted of driving drunk or shoplifting – and you have successfully completed your sentence and moved on with your life, an expunged record could help you obtain a job or housing as an adult.

An expunged record means that you can present your background as more of a clean slate. “For example,” notes NOLO, “assume that Joe was convicted of petty theft and later had the conviction expunged. This was Joe’s only brush with the criminal justice system. If Joe applies for a job and the application asks, “Have you ever been convicted of a criminal offense?” Joe can honestly answer, ‘no.’”



Can Any Conviction Be Expunged?

Different states have their own definitions of the kinds of offenses that qualify to be sealed from the public’s eye. Some states allow arrest and misdemeanor convictions to be expunged, but not felony convictions.

Generally, the less severe the crime, the better chance it could be expunged from your record.

What Does It Take to Have a Case Expunged?

In many cases, the defendant will be required to have finished his or her sentencing, including probation. The courts consider these actions on a case-by-case basis, so it is best to be fully prepared to approach the bench with your request.

The first step is filing a petition with the court, which could cost about $300 (a fee that may be waived if you can prove your low-income status). Next, you will appear at a hearing where your job is to convince the judge that you are aiming toward a law-abiding life, and that sealing a conviction from your record can help you reach important life goals.

What about Employers?

There are actually two kinds of expungement, and one of them may affect your job chances.

A statutory authority means that this particular case is expunged across the board – these cases often involve juveniles convicted of non-violent crimes. If the judge chooses statutory authority, then no one in the public, including employers, can see your record.

An inherent authority means that only the records in the courthouse are sealed. The general public, including employers or landlords conducting background checks, may have access to these records.
In addition, many private databases give web users access to individuals’ criminal records. Such websites “constantly scan the internet and download information – daily, from court websites,” says AVVO. “But those websites do not receive notification of the expungement.”

So if your criminal record is still showing as active, even though it’s been expunged, you will need to do some detective work of your own – finding these private websites and publications, and informing them that your conviction is no longer for public record – and by judicial order, the site is required to removed it.

“Certificate of Actual Innocence”

The most effective form of expungement is the Certificate of Actual Innocence. These are presented in cases where a defendant may have been proved wrongfully accused, or the charges against him or her are dropped.

Trust the Task to an Expert

Unless you are well-versed in searching for, identifying and contacting criminal-record websites, getting your expunged case off the public record can be an intimidating task.

However, you can turn to a law firm with proven success in expungement requests and follow-up to help you. An experienced attorney can take you through the entire process, from filing a petition, to appearing with you at the hearing, to ensuring the expunged case stays out of the picture permanently.

*Image courtesy of Craig Cochrane