It may seem difficult to pick up the pieces after criminal charges. As you grapple with consequences like jail time, fines, limited career options, and the social impact of a conviction, it may be helpful to look into expungement options in your state. Expungement clears your criminal record, essentially providing you with a fresh start. However, expungement isn't a quick and easy fix. There are several factors to weigh as you look into expungement.
Only Some Charges Are Eligible
Only some crimes can be expunged. In several states, one can only apply to clear minor charges and convictions. Serious crimes—for example, several types of felonies and sexual assault cases—may not be eligible. Other factors are also taken into account, including the length of time since the crime and the severity of the applicant's criminal record. While someone with a single years-old minor conviction on their record may appear to have learned their lesson and made the appropriate changes, an applicant with frequent and recent convictions may not be able to have any of their charges cleared.
Requirements Vary Between States
Each state has its own requirements and limitations for expungement. Some states permit a wide range of crimes to be cleared from your record, while others only allow applicants who fit very specific requirements to even be considered. Consulting with a criminal defense attorney is one way to become familiar with your state's laws and find out if this is an option for you. The process can become more complicated if you have a criminal record in multiple states.
The Process Can Be Lengthy
Expungement can significantly improve your quality of life and career prospects, so you should be willing to put in some time to work through the application process and demonstrate your eligibility. You may have to supply documentation of your convictions, time served, and fees paid. Each state has a different application process, and some go by terms other than “expungement”—for example, you might apply to clean your record or set aside a conviction. The court should provide a list of documents you'll need to submit. Your application is then considered by the court.
There's More to Clearing Your Record
While clearing your record is an important part of minimizing the effects of your criminal history, it is very difficult or even impossible to completely erase records of your crimes. For example, Internet searches by employers or acquaintances may turn up news stories related to your conviction, mugshots, or other types of documentation that an expungement cannot erase. Depending on how much time you have and how dedicated you are to the process, you may be able to have much of this information removed by reaching out to website owners and web hosts.
An Expunged Crime Can Impact Your Immigration Process
Even with expungement, your criminal history may impact you in serious ways. Those who have immigrated to the United States may be eligible for deportation after a conviction, even if their records are expunged or sealed.
Find Out if Expungement Can Get You Back on Track
One mistake does not have to define your future. Find out if your record qualifies for expungement by contacting a criminal defense lawyer in your state.