Can I Expunge My Past Criminal Record?

By Michael Klazema on 11/24/2013

It’s a situation that a surprising number of job seekers face: a person with a single criminal conviction on their record—often a decades-old drug or theft charge from when they were young—has great credentials and out-of-this-world recommendations. They answer every question in the interview with perfect responses. Objectively, they are the best person for the job. But when potential employers run a background check and find out about the applicant’s criminal past, everything else collapses. The great interview, the stunning application materials, it all proves for naught just because that person made a mistake all those years ago.

It’s a sad fact of employment screening processes that reformed criminals are going to be viewed contemptuously. Background checks can be a great thing: they can protect employers, their employees, and their customers from a potentially dangerous applicant. But they can also result in discrimination against certain parties, and even though the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has fought hard against such discrimination, former criminals who have fought for years to find their redemption are still often left out in the cold. It doesn’t even necessarily matter what the person’s criminal conviction is: if an offense is there, many employers will view it as a red flag.

For those job hunters—or for that matter, apartment hunters—who are having trouble finding employment or lease approval due to an ancient criminal conviction, there comes a time when enough is enough. How can someone turn over a new leaf if no one will give them a chance to do so? Luckily, in certain states and under certain criteria, a process called “criminal expungement” has made it possible for former criminals to actively erase their troubled pasts from state and federal records.

In fact, virtually every state in the union now has some method in place to help former criminals expunge past misdeeds in the interest of moving on with their lives. The question then becomes whether or not a former criminal is eligible for expungement under their state’s laws. Every state has different legislation in place regarding expungement, and some areas are stricter than others. In short, to determine whether or not they are eligible for criminal expungement, a person must research the rules and regulations that apply to their state in particular.

Eligibility for criminal expungement can be judged in a number of ways, including:

The Nature of the Crime: Certain offenses cannot be expunged from a criminal record, including sex crimes, crimes involving children, murder, manslaughter, or other violent offenses. Those with multiple convictions will also be unlikely to be considered for expungement. More minor crimes, however, especially misdemeanors, are almost always considered for expungement.

The Sentence: Judges will not grant an expungement request unless all of the provisions of the original sentence for the conviction have been fulfilled. These can include jail time, parole, probation, community service, and other sentence factors.

The Timing: Most state judges will consider expungement requests individually depending on the severity of the conviction and the time that has lapsed since it occurred. As a general rule, older offenses are more likely to be expunged—especially if the requestor has not been guilty of any criminal activity since. More severe offenses, if they are even eligible for expungement, require longer periods of clean behavior.

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