In Arkansas, eligible individuals can ask the court to seal their criminal records upon meeting certain requirements. (Arkansas law uses the term "seal" rather than "expunge.") For legal purposes, after a criminal record is sealed, it is as though the crime never happened. The person is legally permitted to state that the conduct never occurred and no record exists, which can open doors to employment and housing opportunities.
Arkansas law allows individuals to seal certain adult criminal conviction and non-conviction records through a court process. If granted, "the person's underlying conduct shall be deemed as a matter of law never to have occurred, and the person may state that the underlying conduct did not occur and that a record of the person that was sealed does not exist." (Ark. Code § 16-90-1417 (2023).) This means potential employers, landlords, and others won't see the record during a background check.
However, there are limits to what sealing does. For one, the records are not destroyed. They remain available to the courts for future criminal proceedings and to certain government agencies for sensitive employment positions. And sealing one's record does not restore voting or firearm rights.
Eligibility and requirements for sealing conviction records in Arkansas are based primarily on the offense level (misdemeanor or felony), as well as a few other special provisions. For non-conviction records, the determination generally hinges on how the matter was resolved.
Arkansas provides for the sealing of misdemeanors after a person completes their sentence and, in a few instances, waits a set amount of time. Although nearly all misdemeanors are eligible for expungement, not every felony conviction allows for this opportunity.
Individuals can request the sealing of most misdemeanor convictions (and violations) after completing their sentence. The completion of a sentence requires full payment of restitution, fines, and court costs, in addition to fulfilling the terms of incarceration, probation, and any other requirements, such as the reinstatement of a driver's license or other monetary obligations. The law doesn't limit the number of misdemeanor convictions or violations that a person can get sealed. However, wait periods may apply.
Most misdemeanors are immediately eligible for sealing. Certain ones require a five-year waiting period after an offender completes their sentence. These include:
For misdemeanor convictions related to driving or boating while intoxicated, the person must wait 10 years. A holder of a commercial driver's license can never seal a misdemeanor or violation for a traffic offense committed in any type of vehicle.
Arkansas law places more restrictions on sealing felony conviction records, including eligibility requirements and wait periods. Also, having more than one previous felony conviction on record (even if sealed) disqualifies a person from being able to seal any more felony convictions.
Records for the following felony convictions cannot be sealed under any circumstances:
For individuals who've completed their sentence and have no more than one prior felony conviction on record, the court may order the following felony convictions sealed once the applicable wait period has passed.
No waiting period. The following felony offenses are eligible for sealing immediately after completion of the sentence and other court-ordered obligations:
Five-year waiting period. Violent Class C and D felonies carry a five-year waiting period before an offender can request expungement.
The law also permits the sealing of non-conviction records when a case ends with an acquittal or charges being dropped or dismissed. In most instances, the judge may order the records sealed immediately. If the prosecutor filed a motion stating they will no longer prosecute, the person must wait one year after the court enters the order (called an order nolle prosequi). The same one-year wait period applies if the prosecutor fails to file charges within one year of an arrest.
Arkansas law also contains special provisions for those who fall into other categories, including victims of human trafficking, certain first-time felony offenders, and felony drug possession charges.
A person convicted of prostitution as a result of being a victim of human trafficking may ask for the record of that conviction to be sealed at any time.
First-time felony offenders who are eligible for, and receive a sentence of, deferred adjudication may have their records sealed upon completing their probation and having the case dismissed. The following offenses don't qualify for sealing under this provision:
A person convicted of felony controlled substance possession may petition the court to seal their record after successfully completing a residential drug treatment program and all other conditions of probation.
Arkansas law also permits the sealing of certain records when a person qualifies and completes a pre-adjudication probation program or treatment court. Other records that may be eligible for sealing include pardons and juvenile records.
To apply for sealing of records in Arkansas, an individual must file a Petition and Order to Seal in the circuit or district court in the county where the crime and conviction occurred. The Arkansas Department of Public Safety provides petition forms on its website. There's no fee to file.
In addition to filing the petition with the court, the prosecuting attorney must receive a copy. Only cases in which the prosecutor objects will require a hearing. Prosecutors have 30 days to file their objections.
If you need assistance in sealing your records, check out some of these resources available online:
Cleaning up a criminal history can be complicated, and the laws change often. If you find the process overwhelming or are not sure whether your record qualifies for expungement, you might want to contact a qualified criminal law attorney. A good lawyer can guide you through each step of the process.
(Ark. Code §§ 5-4-906; 9-27-309; 16-90-1404 to -1413; 16-90-1417; 16-93-303, -314; 16-98-303 (2023).)