If you have a criminal record, you’re no stranger to the ill effects it can have on your life. Background checks are increasingly common among employers, property owners, and various employment licensing agencies. A new study published by the Office Journal of the American Association of Pediatrics, indicates that around 25% of Americans have been arrested at least once by the age of 23. Even a criminal charge from many years ago can affect your chances of being hired or rented to. For some people, depending on various factors of which we’ll discuss here, expungement may be a way to eliminate the hassle that is caused by a criminal record.
What is expungment?
Expungement refers to a process in which a person with a past criminal record petitions the court to have his/her record sealed (expunged). A sealed record is then unsearchable by the state and federal agencies that provide information for background checks. A person who has had their record expunged would proceed as if the criminal charge or conviction never occurred. Therefore for questions on employment or rental applications that ask if you have a past criminal conviction, it would generally be appropriate to answer ‘no’. Generally, the FBI and police officers still have access to your criminal record even after it’s expunged.
The expungment process
Specific processes for expungement will vary from state to state as each state dictates their own expungment laws. A good first step would be to obtain a copy of your criminal record to make sure you know the exact charge(s) that are on it. Usually you can obtain a copy of your criminal record from your local county courthouse or from your local police department. If this is not true for your area, those agencies should be able to direct you to the appropriate place to obtain that information.
After obtaining a copy of your record, you’ll need to do some research on the specific expungement statutes and processes in your area. A quick Google search should provide you with results. Paperwork will have to be filed with the court and then a court date will be scheduled. However, don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a quick and easy process. It is generally advisable to get a lawyer representation as it will increase your chances of success.
In general it is easier to get an older conviction expunged as opposed to a more recent one. The likelihood that an expungement is granted will also depend on the type and severity of the conviction. You will increase your chances for success if you can show life changes that have occurred since you were charged with the crime. For example, if you were charged with a drug related charge 10 years ago but have since successfully completed treatment and have remained sober since then, you should include that information your petition. Make sure that your petition is thoroughly completed as some states have time limits imposed regarding how long you have to wait to re-petition the court.