Expunction (or expungement) is the legal process of permanently erasing a criminal record. Bearing a criminal record has its consequences, including employment discrimination, immigration complications, and the general societal stigma associated with crime.
While the laws surrounding expungement differ across states, it is possible for convictions, charges, and arrest records to be destroyed after the process completes. This means that they cannot appear when someone conducts a background check on you. In addition, you can publicly deny having a criminal record during job interviews and in other sensitive situations without being guilty of perjury or misrepresentation.
It is important to note that there are no federal statutes governing this process, making it a state affair when it comes to laws, eligibility, and statute limitations. The trials and hearings also take place in a state court, and are presided over by a judge of that jurisdiction.
What Is the Difference Between an Expunction and Record Sealing?
Many people use the terms “record sealing” and “expunction” interchangeably. After all, both processes involve sealing the records.
But their procedures and outcomes are different. Non-disclosed or sealed records are hidden away from the public but may still be easily accessible to some jurisdictions, such as medical licensing agencies.
To initiate a record-sealing process, one has to file a nondisclosure petition, while a permanent erasure of your records requires entering an order of expunction.
Am I Eligible for Expunction?
While an expunction is powerful, it is a rare occurrence and only possible in limited cases. If you are wondering whether you are eligible for expungement, contact an expunction lawyer to review your charges and advise you accordingly.
The differences in expunction laws among states and counties are also a reason why you want a legal professional on your side as you navigate the process.
In most states, a person is eligible for an expunction if at least some of the following apply:
- The statute of limitations for the crime has expired.
- The applicant’s crime was pardoned.
- Were acquitted by a Court of Criminal Appeals or any other trial court.
- You received deferred adjudication for a misdemeanor.
- You have concluded the veteran’s court AND the pretrial diversion program.
- The judge found fraud or legal error in your indictment and dismissed or considered it void.
- After your trial, you were neither assigned to community supervision nor convicted of a crime.
- It was your first and only crime that occurred more than 15 years ago and did not involve violence.
- The appropriate timeline for one to be presented with an indictment has passed.
An expungement rarely occurs, and the state court can deny your application even when you meet the above criteria. Other crimes such as murder, rape, serious weapons, corrupting a minor, and sexual battery are also ineligible for expunction in all states.
State laws also allow the expungement of certain misdemeanors if they were committed when the accused was below 18 years of age. These include intrusion of privacy through non-consensual surveillance and entering or looking into a private area with the intent of seeing nudity.
What Is the Process of Expunction?
An expunction application must be filed in the arresting county and is governed by the laws of that region. The application must include proof that you have successfully completed all the terms of your sentence and have no other pending charges.
After this, the respondent, typically a prosecutor or law enforcement officer, has 30 days to argue against the decision. If the respondent appeals, they will set up a hearing to challenge the expunction in front of a judge.
Your expunction lawyer can present evidence of your good behavior and community involvement to win your case. If the judge rules in your favor, your criminal records are returned to court or destroyed.