Your criminal record can make it more difficult to get a job or rent an apartment. Employers and landlords may inquire about your criminal history. But, if you expunge your criminal records, you can honestly say that your record is clean. The process of having your criminal records expunged is different in every state. This means the first step is to find out more about the process in your jurisdiction. That said, there are many elements of the process that are similar from one state to the next.
Understanding Record Expungement
Know what expungement does. Most criminal conviction records are available to anyone who wants to search for them. Expunging your record will alter your record, removing or diminishing many offenses.
The details about how the state manages your criminal record after expungement will depend on your state. Regardless of where you live though, expungement allows you to legally answer that you do not have a criminal record. This is important for employment or rental applications. In some states like Michigan, the court removes records of the crime from public inspection.
In other states like California, you cannot erase a criminal record from public view. But, the disposition of the case will show that the court dismissed the case.
An expunged conviction will often remain on your criminal record for certain purposes. This includes sex offender registration and immigration.
Consider sealing your record. Expunging” a criminal record is different from “sealing” it. When a court “seals” a criminal record, it removes documents that are ordinarily be available for public inspection. As a consequence of expungement, the proceedings related to the case will be treated as though they never occurred. The state may ultimately destroy records. A sealed record still exists, but will not viewable through ordinary means.
Both record sealing and expungement allow you to declare that you do not have a conviction.
The first step in getting a record sealed is to petition the law enforcement agency that arrested you, or the court. In California, for example, you must fill out a form and return it to the applicable law enforcement agency. If the law enforcement agency does not provide relief, you must petition the court.
In other states like Massachusetts, it is possible to seal your criminal record by mail. Or, you can petition the court directly. The process of sealing a criminal record is different depending on the state. In most cases, a judge will make the decision at a hearing. To give yourself the best possible chance of getting the outcome you want, it’s advisable to work with an attorney.
Consider seeking a pardon. Individuals who have been convicted of a crime may apply for a pardon. If granted, a pardon may restore certain rights such as the right to serve on a jury as well as the right to bear arms.In some states like California, a pardon will relieve you of your duty to register as a sex offender.
Generally, applicants for pardons must complete probation or parole. A certain period of time must then pass without further criminal activity. A pardon does not necessarily seal or expunge a criminal record. It does not allow a pardoned person to answer on employment applications that s/he has no record of a criminal conviction. A pardon is a gesture of forgiveness that restores certain rights. Pardons are becoming increasingly rare.
In some states like California, individuals with criminal records may apply for a direct pardon. You can get applications for direct pardon’s from their state governor’s office. In other states, like Arkansas, applications are available online.
Consider a certificate of innocence. A certificate of actual innocence goes further than a regular expungement. It proves that you were innocent, and that the conviction or arrest never should have happened in the first place. The requirements for obtaining a certificate of innocence will vary depending on your state.
If you are able to meet your states requirements, you can ask for this certificate. In some states, if you have already had your record expunged, you may not be eligible for a finding of factual innocence. In states like California, you are eligible if you were arrested but the prosecutor never filed criminal charges. You might also be eligible if the court dismissed your case, or if a jury acquitted you.
In some states, to get a petition of factual innocence you must petition the law enforcement agency that arrested you. Usually this must occur within a specified period of time after the arrest. In California, for example, you must do so within two years after the arrest. If the law enforcement agency denies your request, you can then petition the court to grant your request.
In most cases, a judge will make the decision at a hearing. It is advisable to work with an attorney. You may consider contacting your public defender’s office. Depending on your specific case, some public defenders’ offices may be able to assist you.
Get a Certificate of Rehabilitation. In some states, you can get a Certificate of Rehabilitation to clear up your criminal record. This is a court order declaring that you have been rehabilitated.
A certificate of rehabilitation restores certain rights forfeited because of a criminal conviction. It can result in improved access to state occupational licensing programs. It may also relieve certain sex offenders from their duty to register.
In some states like California, a Certificate of Rehabilitation is an automatic application for a Governor’s Pardon.
In many states, to get a Certificate of Rehabilitation you must file a petition with the court. For example, in California you must submit letters of character and other documents as part of the petition.
Understand who’s eligible for expungement. Every state has different requirements about who is eligible for expungement. Expungement exists to clear the records of people who probably won’t receive further convictions. The following circumstances generally make someone eligible for expungement:
Being a first-time offender
Having an arrest or misdemeanor conviction, as opposed to a felony conviction
Being a juvenile at the time of conviction
Having already served out the sentence
Going a year without further offenses after conviction
Having a drug offense
Getting a Record Expunged
Find out whether you’re eligible for an expungement. Visit your state’s courthouse or court website to find out what requirements you must fulfill. Since every situation is different, it can be difficult to determine whether your are eligible. It’s a good idea to speak with someone in person to find out how to proceed.
In some instances, defense attorneys will negotiate agreement with prosecutors regarding future expungement. Specifically, the prosecutor agrees not to oppose expungement if the defendant meets all requirements. Be sure to check with your attorney to find out if such a discussion took place.
File a petition for expungement. Once you’ve determined that you’re eligible, file a petition with the courthouse. You’ll have to pay a fee, and you’ll have to wait for the court to process your paperwork. In some states, you’ll receive a hearing date on which you’ll meet with a judge to have your record expunged.
In some states like Florida, you will need to get a certificate of eligibility form. You’ll also need a copy of the disposition of the case, and a set of fingerprints. A certification of eligibility is not the same as an expungement. It is just the paperwork you must have in place to file a petition for expungement.
In states like California, you must complete and file a Petition for Dismissal form. You must also submit an Order for Dismissal form and a Declaration.
Make sure you file the petition correctly according to the requirements in your state. Small mistakes in the petition may create delays in the proceedings, since you’ll have to start over.
In some states, you must file the petition in the county where the court charged you with a crime.
Consider working with an attorney.It is a good idea to hire an attorney to help you navigate this process. An attorney can help you determine whether you’re eligible. He or she will also help you fill out the paperwork properly and complete the necessary steps to get your expungement. If you have a hearing, he or she will also go to court and speak on your behalf. Even a case that seems straightforward could end up being more complicated than you thought. It is worth it to have an expert involved to help you.
Consider contacting your local public defender’s office. Public defenders often help individuals seeking to improve their professional and personal opportunities. For an example, visit the Orange County, California Public Defender’s “New Leaf Program.” You can also check out the Clean Slate Clinic, located in Alameda County, California.
Be sure to consult with an attorney or professional who is familiar with the record clearing process in your state. Depending on the facts and circumstances of your case, the state may deny your expungement request. A common reason for denial is not meeting your state’s expungement requirements. These requirements will vary, so be sure you understand your state’s expungement requirements.
If you are looking to clear a juvenile record the process may be easier. In some states, juvenile records are automatically sealed after a person reaches a certain age. The requirements unique to juvenile offenders will vary by state. Consult an attorney or other professional to find out if you will qualify.
The trick to getting awarded an expungement is having a clean background. In other words, be a first time offender, not a repeat offender. Everybody makes mistakes and judges understand that. That’s why this program exists. It gives good people a second chance.
Another trick to getting your record expunged is to enroll in Pretrial Intervention(P.T.I.). Not everyone qualifies for this. Your charge can not be violent, and your prosecutor must recommend your case to the local P.T.I. branch serving your area. You should consult your Attorney to discuss the pros and cons of this option. It is a program for first time offenders. P.T.I. includes drug rehabilitation (if applicable), counseling, and random drug tests. You must also complete community service and pay any fines and restitution. If the course is successfully completed, the court will expunge your record.
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Sources and Citations
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