How Do You Expunge a Criminal Record?


by David Shurman, Criminal Defense Attorney for Freeman & Associates

Expungement refers to a legal process that destroys your
criminal record as though it never happened, although in some cases a copy of
the record may remain available to judicial and law enforcement officials for
potential use in future court cases.

In some states the terms sealing and expungement are used interchangeably, but they are not quite the same. Sealing removes your record from public view, but does not destroy it. In most cases the two procedures have the same effect: You are able to legally answer “no” when asked if you have a criminal record.

What Records Can Be Expunged?

Laws vary widely from state to state about which crimes can
be expunged and when. In general, you may be able to have first-time
misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies expunged, but violent felonies usually
cannot be expunged. Some states allow only juvenile records to be expunged, and
a few states, like Georgia, allow expungement of arrest records but not

In most cases, federal crimes cannot be expunged. An
exception may occur if the conviction is later found to have been
unconstitutional or the result of government misconduct. When expungement is
allowed, any records—including fingerprints, DNA evidence and pictures—held in
court files, detention centers or law enforcement facilities are expunged.

General Procedure for Getting a Criminal Record Expunged

Specifics vary by state, but here is the general procedure
you can expect:

Determine your eligibility. Typically you will need to
meet the following requirements:

Your crime must be eligible for expungement under your
state’s laws.

You must have completed any sentence associated with your

A certain amount of time must have passed, often one year.

You must not have committed additional crimes during this

File a written request. The request for expungement
often includes certain documents, including copies of your criminal records.
You may also need to notify the district attorney’s office that prosecuted you
and the original law enforcement agency. The original prosecuting attorney may
need to sign off on your request before your records will be destroyed.

Request a court hearing. This is your chance to prove
you qualify for expungement.