Whenever a person is arrested or formally charged with a criminal offense, a criminal record is created. This happens regardless of whether you are found not guilty or even released without being charged.
This has far-reaching consequences.
Once a criminal record comes into existence, it becomes accessible to the general public. This aside, prospective landlords and employers might have you fill out application forms that explicitly ask about the existence of a criminal record. You might lose out on a house or a job by admitting to having one, even if you were never actually charged or convicted.
Can a Criminal Record Be Sealed?
The good news is that there are circumstances under which you can have your criminal record expunged or sealed.
Expungement is the process of sealing one’s arrest or conviction records. While the details vary, each state has laws that permit people to have criminal records sealed.
Once this is done, details of the arrest or conviction no longer need to be disclosed.
What Criteria Must Be Met?
You should begin the process by discovering what the laws in your state are. An excellent place to start would be the authority that executed your arrest or the criminal court in your county.
Can You Apply for Expungement?
A jurisdiction can allow expungements for misdemeanor convictions and arrests but disallow the same for felonies.
Differentiating Misdemeanors from Felonies
A felony is considered to be a more serious crime than a misdemeanor. Felonies usually result in harsh prison sentences and substantial fines. Misdemeanors are less serious, though they might involve short jail terms (less than a year), temporary punishments, and smaller fines.
The remaining type of crime is an infraction. This is less serious than a misdemeanor, has no jail time and no criminal record, and therefore the issue of expungement does not apply.
Petty theft, intoxication, prostitution, trespass, indecent exposure, and possession of cannabis for individual use are common examples of misdemeanors in most states.
Arson, murder, aggravated assault, manslaughter, larceny, treason, rape, extortion, kidnapping, and child pornography are examples of felonies in most states. The variances in jurisdictional laws make it prudent to involve a record sealing lawyer.
When Are You Eligible for Expungement?
You need to determine when you will be considered eligible for expungement. Some state laws require a year to pass after finishing a prison sentence, including the probationary period.
However, under exceptional circumstances, a judge can shorten the probation period, allowing someone to apply for expungement sooner.
The Expungement Process
While you might need the help of a lawyer, it’s also possible to manage it by yourself. You should begin by filling a “motion for expungement” form and submit it to a criminal court. The judge will then review it and make a decision on whether to grant the expungement.
Can Sealed Records Be Accessed?
Sealed records become inaccessible to the public, and you are not required to provide this information at any time. However, some licensing boards and police departments can still access the records.
Juvenile Offenses and Drug Crimes
Several jurisdictions allow people arrested or convicted as juveniles to seal their criminal records.
Most often, if you are arrested for drug-related offenses, you also qualify for diversion programs. These programs, upon successful completion, offer the chance to expunge a criminal record.
Juvenile offenders can get their criminal records expunged once they attain 18 years of age. This happens for as long as they are seen to have avoided further legal issues.
Expungement Vis-a-Vis Certificate of Innocence
An expungement seals a criminal record from public access. It also makes it legal for you to answer “no” when asked if you have a criminal record.
A certificate of innocence, on the other hand, is a step up from an expungement. Getting this certificate essentially means that the criminal record should not have been established in the first place.
Looking to Have a Criminal Record Expunged?
If you or a loved one has a criminal record, it’s wise to determine if it can be expunged so that you can move forward with a clean slate.
As you can see, many factors determine whether a record can be expunged, and these factors can be different from one jurisdiction to the next. Consider consulting a record sealing lawyer to help you navigate the process.