Just about everyone who has had a criminal record inquired at one point or another about what legal remedies were available to get rid of it. Sadly, many people make common mistakes that prevent them from utilizing laws designed to help them.
For many people the worst part about getting convicted is not the fine, incarceration or probation, it is the long-term effect of having a criminal record. Landlord and employers are increasingly relying on criminal background checks when making decisions about who to rent to or hire.
Avoiding these three mistakes can help a person seeking to clear their criminal record know for sure what their options are.
Mistake One: Inquiring about a legal term of art that is not used in the state. State law dictates the process of clearing a criminal record. Just as the eligibility requirements vary by state and the benefits of the process vary by state, so to does the name of the procedure. The process of clearing a criminal record has a wide-range of names. In Pennsylvania it is expungement, in Nevada it is record sealing, in Arizona it is setting aside, in Washington it is vacating, and the list goes on an on. A person who asks a court clerk or lawyer about a legal remedy by the wrong name may get the unfortunate news that remedy is not available in the state without the person giving them the good news that a similar remedy by a different name is available.
A person who is seeking to have their record cleared should not use a legal term of art when asking for guidance, but rather ask about the benefits they are trying to acquire.
Mistake Two: Seeking legal advice from someone who is not competent to give it. There is no shortage of people who know enough about the law to be dangerous. Among those are many attorneys. According to attorney Melissa Clark of the Law Firm of Higbee & Associates, laws related to criminal record clearing can be “deceptively complicated.” Clark says that California has more than a dozens sections of law dedicated to criminal record clearing. A partial list includes special rules for cases involving juveniles, cases that involve marijuana offenses, cases that resulted in alternative drug treatment programs, cases that resulted in prison sentences, cases that resulted in probation, cases that involved only a fine, and cases that resulted in an arrest without a conviction.
A quick read of message board discussions about expungement or criminal record clearing will find a long list of well-meaning amateur advice with each author contradicting the next.
A person who is seeking to get his or her criminal record sealed, expunged or otherwise cleared should seek the advice of someone with extensive experience in the area of law. Keep in mind that not all attorneys are experts on this area of law. If a person receives bad news from the first expert, he or she should get a second or third opinion.
Mistake Three: Asking once and never asking again. Laws that pertain to criminal record clearing are changing rapidly. Utah, Illinois, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Missouri, Colorado, Indiana and Ohio are just a few states that have increased options for having a criminal record cleared in 2012 or 2013.
A person seeking to have their record cleared should monitor the area of law in the state where there conviction occurred. Since most lawyers who practice law in this area will give a free consultation that discusses eligibility, it makes good sense to check with a lawyer every two or three years to see if the law has changed in a way that expands eligibility.
Expungement, by whatever name it is called, will continue to be a sought after remedy for those with a criminal record, especially as technology makes it easier and less expensive to access criminal background checks. Avoiding these three mistakes will help many people make sure that they are able to take advantage of laws designed to help them leave their criminal record in the past and move on with their lives.