Expunging or Sealing an Adult Criminal Record

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If you have a criminal record, you probably already know that it can create trouble for you. Maybe an employer or landlord has asked whether you’ve ever been convicted of -- or even arrested for -- a criminal offense. Perhaps your answer has taken you out of the running for a job or an apartment. In these and other ways, a criminal record for even a minor offense can wreak havoc in your life. The good news is that, in some cases -- depending on the specifics of your record and on the state in which you reside -- you may be able to clean up your criminal record through a process called "expungement" or, in some states, "expunction."

This article concerns adult criminal records. If you are interested in sealing a juvenile court record, see Expunging or Sealing a Juvenile Court Record.

What Is Expungement?

Expungement refers to the process of destroying, erasing, or sealing arrest or conviction records. Almost every state has enacted laws that allow people to expunge arrests, and often convictions, from their records. Though the details vary from one state to the next, most states' laws provide that once an arrest or conviction has been expunged, it need not be disclosed, including to most potential employers, or landlords. For example, let's say that you were convicted of petty theft and later had the conviction expunged, and that this was your only brush with the criminal justice system. If you apply for a job and the application asks, "Have you ever been convicted of a criminal offense?" you can legally answer, "No."

Although expunging or sealing a criminal record has many benefits, in some situations your criminal record will live on. You can learn about the limited situations in which a sealed or expunged record may still be used against you in The Limits of Expunging Your Criminal Record.

Is Your Record Eligible for Expungement?

Because an expungement offers a fresh start of sorts, one of the most important actions you can take is to find out whether your record qualifies. A few states have very strict laws and rarely allow expungement of accurate arrest or conviction records, but most have expungement procedures that depend on the following factors:

  • whether you were actually convicted of a crime
  • if you were convicted, the severity of the crime
  • how long it has been since you were arrested or convicted
  • whether  you have successfully completed the terms your sentence, probation, or diversion program, and
  • whether you have been convicted of other crimes in the past.

No matter where you live, it is unlikely that you will be able expunge a very serious crime, such as a violent felony or a sex offense.

Applying for Expungement

If your criminal record is eligible for expungement, you may not need to hire an attorney to complete the process. Some states make it easy to apply for expungement, and many court websites offer expungement information and forms you can download for free. (That said, you must usually pay a fee at the time you file your paperwork with the court.) In more complex situations, you will need the assistance of a qualified criminal law attorney.

Expungement Laws by State

To learn more about expunging criminal records, read the overview for your state below. Follow the link to the state article itself, to learn whether you can expunge an arrest or conviction record where you live, and for tips on getting started.

State

Laws At-a-Glance

Alabama

Alabama allows adult criminal records to be expunged in very limited circumstances. If there is a mistake in your record, you may be able to have the record changed or erased.

Alaska

In Alaska, you may ask to have your criminal record sealed only if the record is, beyond a reasonable doubt, based on mistaken identity or false accusation. If your criminal record is not based on mistaken identity or false accusation, but contains other errors, you may be able to have it corrected.

Arizona

Arizona does not allow for expungement, however, under certain circumstances, you may obtain some of the benefits of expungement by asking to have your conviction “set aside” under Arizona law.

Arkansas

If you have met all the conditions and court orders pertaining to your sentence, you can ask to have a misdemeanor conviction expunged.

California

In California, the process of expunging or clearing a criminal record is usually called "dismissal," because the case is reopened and the criminal conviction is dismissed.

Colorado

In Colorado, it is not usually possible to expunge or "seal" a conviction from your criminal record, even if you have completed probation. There are, however, exceptions for some offenses involving controlled substances.

Connecticut

Your record may be erased if: you were charged with a crime but found not guilty, your case was dismissed, the charges against you were dropped (“nolled”) at least 13 months ago, or, your case was put on hold (“continued”) at least 13 months ago and there has been no prosecution or other disposition of the matter.

Delaware

If you were arrested and charged (but not convicted) with a misdemeanor and you have no other convictions on your record, you may be entitled to mandatory expungement. If you were convicted of a misdemeanor, the only way to have your record expunged is to apply for a pardon.

District of Columbia

In the District of Columbia, you can always petition to have your criminal records sealed if you can show that you were innocent of the crime for which you were arrested or charged. If you were arrested for, or arrested and charged with, an eligible misdemeanor offense, you may petition to have your criminal records sealed.

Florida

If you were arrested but not convicted of a crime, your criminal record may be eligible for sealing or expungement. If you were found guilty -- or pleaded guilty or nolo contendere -- there is an extensive list of crimes that are not eligible for expungement or sealing under Florida law.

Georgia

You may be able to expunge your Georgia criminal record if the charges against you were dropped or dismissed. The Georgia First Offender Act permits some defendants to receive probation instead of being subject to judgment by a court.

Hawaii

If you were arrested -- or arrested and charged -- but not convicted of a crime, you can ask to have your criminal history record expunged. In some cases, expungement may be available for first-time, nonviolent drug offenders who have completed probation and treatment.

Idaho

It is usually not possible to expunge your criminal record if you were convicted in Idaho. State law provides a couple of limited exceptions.

Illinois

In Illinois, “expunging” and “sealing” a criminal record are two different things. If you have never been convicted of a crime or violated a municipal ordinance, you may be eligible to have your record expunged. If you have been convicted, you may be able to have your records sealed.

Indiana

Indiana has two separate sets of laws that may help you clean up your criminal record. In some cases, your record may be eligible for expungement -- that is, complete erasure. In others, your record may qualify for restricted access.

Iowa

The options for expunging or sealing a criminal record in Iowa are limited. If you were convicted of a crime, your record may qualify for expungement only under certain circumstances.

Kansas

If you were arrested but not convicted of a crime, you may petition to have your arrest record expunged. If you were convicted of one of the eligible crimes, you can petition for expungement if more than three (or five) years have passed since you satisfied the conditions of your diversion agreement, probation, sentence, parole, or post-release supervision.

Kentucky

If you were convicted of a criminal misdemeanor or violation -- or multiple misdemeanors or violations arising from a single incident -- the related records may be eligible for expungement five years after you complete your probation or sentence.

Louisiana

In Louisiana, your criminal record may be expunged -- that is, erased or sealed -- under a few different circumstances.

Maine

Maine does not allow the expungement of adult criminal records. Instead, under some circumstances, your record may be designated “nonconviction data”, which means it will be sealed from public view and, in most cases, you will not have to disclose that you were arrested or convicted of a crime.

Maryland

If you were arrested but not charged, your record qualifies for expungement. If you were arrested and charged with a crime, but not convicted. You may request that your record be expunged. Your criminal record may qualify for expungement if you were convicted of only one nonviolent crime and the Governor granted you a full pardon.

Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, your criminal record may be sealed under various circumstances depending on the crime.

Michigan

In Michigan, expunging a criminal record means having your criminal conviction “set aside.” If your conviction is set aside, it is hidden from public view.

Minnesota

In Minnesota, expunging a criminal record may mean returning it to you, destroying it, or sealing it, depending on the circumstances of your case.

Mississippi

If you were convicted of a misdemeanor, other than a traffic violation, and you are a first offender, you may petition to have your conviction expunged. Five years after successfully completing the terms of your sentence, you may petition to expunge your conviction if it is one of the eligible felonies.

Missouri

In Missouri, your criminal record may qualify for expungement or sealing -- called "closure" under Missouri law -- if you were arrested for a crime but not convicted.

Montana

In Montana, your criminal record may be expunged under very limited circumstances.

Nebraska

It is not possible to expunge a criminal conviction in Nebraska. If, however, you were arrested but not convicted of a crime, or if your conviction was reversed, your record may be eligible for expungement.

Nevada

In Nevada, your criminal record may be sealed under some circumstances. If your record is sealed, it is hidden from public view. For legal purposes, it is as though the events described within the sealed record never occurred

New Hampshire

In New Hampshire, the process of expunging a criminal record is called “annulment.” Your criminal record may be annulled several circumstances.

New Jersey

If you were arrested or detained, but not convicted of a crime, you may petition to have the related criminal record expunged. New Jersey law permits the expungement of many criminal convictions after successfully completing your sentence and waiting for a required period of time.

New Mexico

Most of the time, it’s not possible to expunge an accurate arrest or charge on an New Mexico criminal record. New Mexico allows adult criminal records to be expunged only in very limited circumstances.

New York

New York allows criminal records to be sealed under some circumstances. When your record is sealed, it is hidden from public view, though some government agencies may still have access to it.

North Carolina

If charges were dismissed or you were found not guilty. Your arrest record may qualify for expungement. There are also a number of circumstances under which alcohol, drug, or toxic vapors offenses can be expunged in North Carolina.

North Dakota

In North Dakota, criminal records are rarely expunged, there are, however, a few situations in which expungement or sealing may be permitted.

Ohio

If you were arrested but not convicted of a crime, the related records may qualify for sealing. If you were a first-time offender, your conviction record may be eligible for sealing.

Oklahoma

If you pleaded guilty or no contest to the charges brought against you, and you were given a deferred sentence, the related record may qualify for sealing after you successfully complete all the conditions of probation. Cases not involving probation may qualify for expungement in some circumstances.

Oregon

In Oregon, the process of expunging a criminal record is called “expunction” or “setting aside.” If your record is set aside, it will no longer be visible to the general public, including potential employers.

Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, your criminal record may be expunged in a variety of circumstances involving many common crimes.

Rhode Island

If any of the following are true, your criminal record may qualify for sealing, you were acquitted, the charges against you were dismissed, there was no true bill or “no information,” or, you were otherwise exonerated. If you are a first offender and you were convicted of a crime other than a crime of violence, your criminal record may qualify for expungement.

South Carolina

If you were a first-time offender, you were not convicted of a violent crime, and you completed a pre-trial intervention program you may apply to have the related criminal record expunged. There are other options for first time offenders as well.

South Dakota

South Dakota has only a few laws governing the expungement or sealing of criminal records. However, if your circumstances are not covered by one of these laws, you may still be able to clean up your record.

Tennessee

If you successfully completed a pretrial diversion program, your conviction record may be eligible for expungement. If you successfully completed probation, your conviction record may be eligible for expungement.

Texas

In Texas, the process of expunging a criminal record is often called “expunction.” In addition, some criminal records may be sealed by court order, called an “order of nondisclosure.” If your criminal record is expunged or sealed, it will no longer be visible to the general public.

Utah

In Utah, many criminal conviction records may be expunged. Many offenses, however, do not qualify for expungement unless you are pardoned by the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole.

Vermont

Vermont has only a few laws governing the expungement or sealing of adult criminal records.

Virginia

The state of Virginia does not allow the expungement or sealing of criminal conviction records unless you were granted an absolute pardon for a crime you did not commit.

Washington

Your criminal record may be expunged -- that is, erased or sealed -- under some circumstances. In Washington, the process of expunging or sealing a criminal conviction is called "vacating a judgment."

West Virginia

For first-time drug offenses your criminal record may qualify for expungement if you have successfully completed a deferred sentence and your case was discharged or dismissed. Misdemeanor offenses committed between the ages of 18 and 26 may qualify for expungement.

Wisconsin

Wisconsin allows adult criminal records to be expunged in very limited circumstances. If you were arrested but not convicted of a crime, it may be possible to have some or all of your arrest record removed from the Wisconsin Criminal History Repository. If you were convicted of a minor offense when you were under the age of 25, a court may have the authority to expunge that conviction.

Wyoming

Certain misdemeanor and felony convictions may be eligible for expungement under Wyoming law.

by: , J.D.

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