Expunging or Sealing Criminal Records in Wisconsin

The basics of Wisconsin's limited record clearing laws.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated 8/18/2023

Wisconsin has very limited and restrictive expungement (or expunction) laws that apply only to certain youthful and juvenile offenders and trafficking victims. Learn what expungement does in Wisconsin and what records might be eligible.

Expungement of Criminal Records in Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, an expungement order seals only court records from public view. Expungement doesn't seal related criminal records held by other criminal justice agencies, such as law enforcement agencies, district attorney offices, and the Wisconsin Criminal Information Bureau. Anyone can ask for a criminal record through one of these agencies, including employers, schools, landlords, and professional licensing boards.

(While they can ask for the records, Wisconsin employment law states that it's discriminatory for employers and licensing agencies to consider arrest or convictions records that aren't substantially related to the position. (Wis. Stat. § 111.335 (2023).)

Who Is Eligible for Expungement in Wisconsin?

A judge can expunge court records in only three circumstances.

Youthful Offenders: Expunging Misdemeanors and Low-Level Felonies

Youthful offenders—those younger than 25 when they committed the offense—can ask the sentencing court to expunge misdemeanors and certain low-level felonies (those with a maximum sentence of six years or less). The judge must decide at the time of sentencing that expungement will benefit the person and not harm society.

For felony expungements, the person can't have any prior felony convictions, and certain felonies are ineligible, including:

  • Class H felonies for stalking, physical abuse of a child, sexual assault by school personnel, and violent offenses (listed in section 301.048(2)(bm)), and
  • Class I felonies for concealing the death of a child and violent offenses (listed in section 301.048(2)(bm)).

As long as the person successfully completes their sentence, satisfies any (and all) probation terms, and has no subsequent convictions, the court will expunge the misdemeanor or felony record as stated in the sentencing order. For probationers, any condition violation—resulting in revocation or not—disqualifies them from receiving expungement.

(Wis. Stat. § 973.015 (2023); State v. Lickes, 960 N.W.2d 855 (2021).)

Juvenile Offenders: Delinquency Adjudications

Upon turning 17, a juvenile offender can petition the court to expunge their adjudication record. The judge may expunge the record if:

  • the juvenile complied with the terms of their sentence, and
  • expunging the record will benefit the juvenile and not harm society.

For a first-time invasion of privacy violation, the law requires expungement upon successful completion of the sentencing conditions. (Wis. Stat. § 938.355(4m) (2023).)

Trafficking Victims: Prostitution Offenses

Trafficking victims can ask the court to expunge a prostitution conviction or adjudication. The victim must provide information to the court that the violation was a result of them being a trafficking victim. (Wis. Stat. § 973.015 (2023).)

How to Get an Expungement in Wisconsin

The process for expunging one's record depends on the type of record and sentence.

Youthful Offenders: Request During Sentencing

When seeking a youthful offender expungement (younger than 25), a defendant must ask for expungement during sentencing. If the person's conviction qualifies for expungement, the judge includes expungement as part of the sentencing order.

Once the person successfully completes their sentence of incarceration or probation, the probation or correctional officer sends the court a certificate of discharge and the court clerk expunges the record. This process should be automatic. However, a person who doesn't end up serving probation or jail time might need to file a form that notifies the court that their sentence is complete. (The form is available on the Wisconsin Court website, Form CR-266.)

Juvenile Offenders and Trafficking Victims: Need to Petition the Court

Juvenile offenders and trafficking victims will need to file a petition or motion with the court asking for expungement.

Juveniles. A juvenile can file the petition after turning 17 and completing their sentence. (The form is available on the Wisconsin Court website, Form JD-1780.)

Trafficking victims. Procedures for trafficking victims can be found in Wisconsin Statutes, section 973.015(2m) (2023).)

Getting Help With Expungement in Wisconsin

Expungement options are limited in Wisconsin, but if you think you might be eligible, you might want to talk to a criminal defense lawyer. Other resources to consider include legal aid clinics and expungement clinics run by nonprofits or law schools.

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