Expunging or Sealing Adult Criminal Records in the District of Columbia

In Washington, D.C., many criminal records can be expunged or sealed so that the general public will not be able to access them. But not all records are eligible.

In the District of Columbia, your criminal record can be sealed—that is, erased or "expunged"—under the circumstances described below. If your record is sealed, you do not in most cases have to disclose that the arrest, charge, trial, or conviction occurred. (D.C. Code §§ 16-802, 16-803, 16-803.02 (2019).)

Expungement or Sealing in D.C. if You Were Not Convicted of a Crime

If you can prove your innocence. 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. (D.C. Code § 16-802 (2019).)

Eligible misdemeanor offenses. If you were arrested for, or arrested and charged with, an eligible misdemeanor, you may petition to have your criminal records sealed if you were not convicted of the offense.

You typically must wait at least two years after your case ended to apply. However, the waiting period is extended to five years if you have ever been convicted of a disqualifying misdemeanor and ten years if you were convicted of any felony other than failure to appear. See D.C. Code § 16-801 for the full list of disqualifying misdemeanor offenses—which includes driving under the influence and sex offenses—or consult a criminal law attorney to learn whether your arrest or charge qualifies.

(D.C. Code § 16-803 (2019).)

Other offenses. You may petition to have a nonconviction record for any other offense sealed under the following circumstances:

  • If you were arrested and charged with a crime, you were not convicted, and wait four years after your case ended to apply.
  • If you were arrested and not charged with a crime, you were not convicted, and wait three years after your case ended to apply.

The waiting period is extended to five years if you have ever been convicted of a disqualifying misdemeanor and ten years if you were convicted of any felony other than failure to appear. Carefully read D.C. Code § 16-801 for the full list of disqualifying misdemeanor offenses or consult a qualified criminal lawyer to learn whether your arrest or charge qualifies.

(D.C. Code §§ 16-801, 16-803 (2019).)

Expungement or Sealing in D.C. if You Have Been Convicted of a Crime

If you were convicted of an eligible misdemeanor or an eligible felony, you may petition to have your criminal records sealed if:

  • at least eight years have passed since you completed your sentence, and
  • you don’t have a disqualifying arrest or conviction.

The only “eligible felony” is failure to appear, and the list of ineligible misdemeanors is long. Carefully read D.C. Code § 16-801 or consult a criminal law attorney to learn whether your conviction qualifies.

(D.C. Code § 16-803 (2019).)

Expungement or Sealing of Records for Decriminalized or Legalized Offenses

If you were arrested for, charged with, or convicted of a crime that has since been decriminalized or legalized—such as possession of marijuana—you may petition to have the associated records sealed at any time. (D.C. Code § 16-803.02 (2019).)

Getting Legal Help

Cleaning up your criminal record can be complicated, and the law can change at any time. To learn more about expunging criminal records in Washington, D.C., you should contact a qualified criminal defense attorney. A good attorney can address the details of your personal situation and help you every step of the way.

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