- As cited on "Your Lawyer: A User's Guide" (Lexis-Nexis)
Q: What is expungement?
A: Expungement is often equated to the sealing or destroying of legal records. Each state offers its own definition of expungement, based on different rules and laws. Generally, expungement can be viewed as the process to "remove from general review" the records pertaining to a case. But the records may not completely "disappear" and may still be available to law enforcement.
Q: What can be expunged?
A: Generally, all records on file within any court, detention or correctional facility, law enforcement or criminal justice agency concerning a person's detection, apprehension, arrest, detention, trial or disposition of an offense within the criminal justice system can be expunged. Each state sets its own guidelines for what records can be expunged.
Q: Are juvenile records expunged?
A: Most states have laws that allow, or possibly even require, the expungement of juvenile records once the juvenile reaches a certain age. In some cases, the records are destroyed; sometimes they are simply "sealed." The purpose of these laws is to allow a minor who has committed criminal acts, or in the language of the juvenile courts, delinquent acts, to erase his record permanently, usually at the age of 17 or 18. The idea is to allow the juvenile offender to enter adulthood with a "clean slate," shielding him from the negative effects of having a criminal record.
Q: Who can get their court record expunged?
A: Eligibility for an expungement of arrest, investigation, or detention record will be based on state law. Often a number of conditions must be met before the request will be considered, including:
* A minimum length of time has passed since arrest
* There have been no intervening arrests
* The proceedings were dismissed
* Discharge without conviction and no charges were refiled
* Release without formal charges being filed
* Any juvenile records have been expunged
Q: Can an expungment be denied?
A: Yes. Each state sets its own standards. Some factors which may contribute to a denial include:
* Time period required by law has not been met. This time period often does not begin until all confinement and probation has been completed and fines are paid.
* Additional convictions exists
* A previous expungement exits
* Pending arrest(s)
* Conviction of a sexual offense
* Registered sex offender
* Court records indicate that the case is still open.
Q: If my record is expunged, do I have to ever have to acknowledge the case again?
A: With limited exception, you may thereafter truthfully state that you were never arrested, charged, or accused of a crime. In the eyes of the law, the entire incident never occurred. In most respects, a sealing or expungement restores you to the status you occupied before being arrested or charged.
You should be aware that the federal government need not honor the expungement, nor does an expungement of a conviction necessarily relieve a person from having to disclose it in an application for public office or on some professional license applications.
Q: Can previously sealed records ever be unsealed?
A: Possibly. Previously sealed records can be unsealed in some states under specified conditions.
Q: Are records ever "automatically" expunged?
A: Arrest and conviction records arent automatically expunged or sealed after a period of years. Individuals seeking expungement generally have to apply (in writing) and follow the established procedure.