What is expungement? Discover how expungement works to provide a "clean slate" to individuals seeking second chances from previous crime activities.

We Know: All About Expungement

What is expungement?

In the criminal justice context, expungement is the sealing of a criminal record with the court approval after sentencing, or obligation, has been completed. Other names for expungement include "erasure, destruction, setting aside, expunction, and purging."

Why get an expungement?

A criminal record is a stigma. Employers do not hire individuals with criminal records. Expunging a criminal record give a person the opportunity to reintegrate into society without the stigma of an existing criminal record. An expunged record means that the criminal record will not appear in background checks and can be "forgotten."

How does expungement work?

States expunge criminal records, and the rules vary from state to state. The federal justice system does not recognize expungement. The general principles by which expungement works include:

  1. Any record on file at a court, correctional or detention facility, law enforcement, or criminal justice facility can be expunged.
  2. Individuals must apply for expungement in writing with copies of their criminal record, or "rap sheet."
  3. A certain amount of time must have passed (at least one year), and sentencing must be completed. The individual must have no convictions or crimes committed during this time.
  4. Any person acquitted of a crime can have his/her records sealed immediately.
  5. Records are sealed from private parties. Criminal records are still accessible to law enforcement. If an individual is convicted of a crime in the future, the records can be unsealed.

Individuals seeking expungement should first consult an experienced lawyer or a public defender.

What types of crimes can be expunged?

The types and severity of crimes that can be expunged depend on the state where the individual resides. Generally, if an individual has no convictions, expungement is easier to obtain, as in the case of acquittals. Juvenile criminal records tend to be expunged to provide kids a clean slate to reintegrate into society. Misdemeanors, felonies, and wobblers (a crime that can either be a felony or misdemeanor, depending on the situation) can be expunged from a person's record. Severe criminal offenses are not expunged from records, which includes sex crimes and murders.

How can a person treat an expunged record?

Since a expungement essentially creates a clean slate, individuals can reply in the negative if they are asked whether they have been prosecuted or convicted of any crimes.

Is expungement used in any other context?

Other commonly used contexts include removing negative information from a credit report if the record is in error and removing a negative record from a personnel file if no further complaints are received after an elapsed period of time.

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