How Can I Expunge My Criminal Record?

By Michael Klazema on 1/5/2015

Tired of missing out on job opportunities or having your apartment applications rejected because of a criminal record? You aren't alone: many ex-offenders find themselves paying for their past mistakes or misdeeds long after they have served legal punishment for those crimes. Quite simply, some parts of society are hell-bent on making sure that criminal pay for their sins forever. Unfortunately, this mindset makes it incredibly difficult for ex-convicts to rebuild their lives or find honest jobs, and it often leads to recidivism and repeat offenses.

If you have found yourself in this situation ”where you are still paying heartily for a mistake you made when you were young, then it may be time to consider criminal record expungement. When you expunge a criminal record, you are essentially deleting it from public record. In other words, a crime that has been expunged from your record will often not show up in a background check, at all. In turn employers, landlords, educational programs, and others will not be able to hold expunged offenses against you.

So how can you go about getting your criminal record expunged? To start, learn the rules of expungement. On the surface, this means understanding what expungement does and how it works. On a deeper level, it means looking at the laws that are on the books in your state and learning whether or not you would even be eligible for expungement.

There are several factors that could impact whether or not you can expunge your record. Again, you will have to check your state's expungement laws in order to know for sure, but generally, you can find out if your situation falls on the "yes" or "no" side of the coin by asking a few simple questions.

The first question you should ask is what you were convicted of. The severity of your criminal offense will play a huge role in deciding whether or not you are eligible for expungement. Typically, violent crimes, sexually related offenses, or serious drug charges will be more difficult to expunge than other offenses. Said another way, some courts will consider erasing misdemeanors, but won't expunge most felonies.

The second question to ask is how long ago did the offense take place? You will have a much better chance of deleting a 20-year-old offense than you will expunging a two-year-old conviction. If a court is going to eradicate your criminal history, they want plenty of evidence that you have been working on rebuilding your life. So the more time that has elapsed since your conviction, the better the odds of expungement. If it hasn't been very long since your crime, or especially if you haven't finished serving the sentence yet, then applying for expungement might be a waste of time for you at this point.

Lastly, ask yourself whether or not you've had any repeat offenses. Often, the people who have the best luck expunging criminal records are the people who can claim that they made a big mistake when they were young, but learned from it. So if you only have one charge on your record and have been a clean and upstanding citizen ever since, you may well be able to expunge that offense so that you can move on with your life. Your chances improve somewhat if you were a juvenile at the time of the offense, simply because many judges are more willing to forgive youthful mistakes.

If and when you have determined that you are a good candidate for expungement, you can move on to the next stages of the process. Some people start by hiring an attorney to help them through the process, assist them with the paperwork, and argue their case in court if there is a hearing. Others just go right ahead with filing a petition for expungement.

In this matter, the choice is yours. If you can learn enough about your state's process for expungement, you might be able to handle the process yourself. To figure it out for sure, head to your local courthouse and see if you can speak to someone about expungement. Some states require you to have a certificate of eligibility before you file a petition for expungement while others will allow you to file the petition right away. Either way, a trip to the courthouse for clarification isn't bad idea, particularly if you're on the fence about whether or not you might be eligible for expungement.

Alternatively, consulting with an attorney can give you all the same information (Are you eligible for expungement? What is the process for filing a petition? etc.) with the added benefit of having someone in your corner to help you make your case. Hiring an attorney will cost money, which can be difficult if you are out of work and are shooting for expungement with hopes that it will help you land a job.

However, hiring an attorney will also instantly improve your chances of getting a petition for expungement approved. You will not only be aligning yourself with someone who knows that law and can help you through the process, but you will also be giving yourself a strong advocate who can champion your case in a courtroom if a hearing is necessary. While you have every right to represent yourself and state your own expungement case to a judge, a legal expert will probably be able to make the same argument without letting nerves or emotions get in the way. Want to know for sure if you are eligible in your state for expungement? You can now take this quick quiz.

The process of expungement can be a stressful, labyrinthine thing to navigate, especially on your own. If you are eligible to expunge your criminal record, then you owe it to yourself to give it a shot. Even the most irrelevant misdemeanor charge can make it difficult to find a job, get into a college or university, or be approved by a landlord. Expunging your offense can make all of these things much easier. In short, it's like having a new lease on life.

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