An expungement is the sealing of a criminal conviction, such as a misdemeanor or felony, from your criminal record. To seal your criminal conviction means that you can legally treat the crime as if it never occurred! So, you would generally not have to list an expunged crime on job applications or other public documents. It sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Well, there are exceptions to this rule and every jurisdiction can apply its own rules to expungements (which we’ll discuss later).
An expungement proceeding is a civil proceeding, not a criminal proceeding. That means you generally have to obtain your own lawyer. Judges also have a good amount of discretion in granting or denying a request to expunge a crime. For example, the court can consider many factors, including:
- The nature of the crime you want expunged
- Your criminal background
- Whether you’re employed or seeking employment
- Whether you’ve taken actions to stop your criminal acts
- For example, if you were arrested for a drug related crime, the judge may require you to attend substance abuse programs and/or education programs
- Any other mitigating factors, i.e. relevant factors, as determined by the judge
So, it is always best to take all necessary steps to prove to the judge that the crime was simply a one-time occurrence – which will not happen again.
Many states have laws that automatically seal a juvenile’s record once he or she reaches the age of an adult. This can be characterized as another form of expungement. The purpose of these laws is to give the juvenile a second chance and a clean slate going into the age of adulthood. Society wants kids to be productive and responsible adults – it’s in the best interest for society and the kids. So, many courts will seal a juvenile’s record to give the child a better chance in obtaining a good job and leading a productive life.
Now that we’ve touched upon a general overview of expungements, let’s go over the usual eligibility requirements to obtain an expungement.