An expungement, according to the website, USLegal.com is, “…the process of legally destroying, obliterating or striking out records or information in files, computers and other depositories relating to criminal charges”. However, not all states will destroy records that have been expunged. For example, in Louisiana, expungement does not mean that the records will be physically destroyed. In this state, expungement is defined as a “…means of removal of a record from public access but does not mean destruction of the record. An expunged record is confidential, but remains available for use by law enforcement agencies, criminal justice agencies…”( http://www.nola.gov/nopd/citizen-services/expunging-records/). Some states use the term expungement to mean the same thing as sealing. Sealing a record means the record is not destroyed, but hidden from public searches. Based on the different definitions of what expungement means in different states, make sure to have this clarified before proceeding.
What Crimes can be Expunged?
Before even looking at which types of charges can be expunged, let’s look at those that cannot be expunged. Knowing which crimes do not qualify will save you time and money, not to mention frustration. In most cases, any offense where a mandatory prison sentence is required cannot be expunged. Sexual offenses, especially one committed against a minor is one prime example. Other charges where expungement is normally not possible are cases where a guilty plea was given in drug offences and certain DUI cases (http://www.lpcsonline.org/s/pdf/expungement.pdf). Of course, these may vary depending on the state you are in, or the state in which the crime was committed.
First time offenders can generally apply to get their records expunged if the crime was not a federal crime. Other misdemeanors and surprisingly some felonies that can be expunged include petty theft, burglary, shoplifting, indecent exposure, domestic violence and receiving stolen property. The best advice is to speak to a lawyer who deals with these kinds of matters to determine whether or not you qualify.
Some states do not expunge criminal records regardless of the nature of the crime. Others only expunge records for juveniles but not adult offenders, or records of first time offenders who were never convicted of a crime.
Starting the Process
Visit the Department of Justice website for your state or the district court to find out what you need to do to start the process of getting your record expunged. You will need to get the application form and fill it out. Failure to complete the application accurately will delay the filing process. In most states, you will need to send the information of your intent to file for expungement to a number of agencies. These include the office of the district attorney that was involved in your case, the police station where you were booked, the state police department, and the department responsible for managing criminal records.
If you have more than one matter that you need expunged, you should request a copy of your criminal record. This way you will have accurate information to enable the filing process to go smoothly. Some states such as Illinois have all the information you need to determine your eligibility and the process posted on a website. For Illinois, the information is readily available on the website of the State Appellate Defender (https://www.illinois.gov/osad/Expungement/Pages/Expungement-and-Sealing-General-Information.aspx). After filing all the required documents, you will still need to request that your matter be heard in court. If you miss this step, your chances of getting your record expunged will be limited.
How Long does Expungement Take
After filing to get your record expunged, you will still have to wait up to a year or more for all the various agencies to catch up. However, the time varies a lot from state to state. In Florida, the timeframe to apply for and get a Certificate of Eligibility is between five to seven months. Overall, the process to expunge your records can be longer than you expect since in addition to getting the forms and filling them out, you need to get lots of supplementary documentation. These include a record of all convictions and charges, your fingerprints, and character references.
After all of this is submitted, you will still need to wait for your application to be processed. Some systems are so overburdened that you may have to wait for months before your application is processed. After this, you still have to wait for a court hearing. If successful, you then have to get the information to all the agencies that will need to update their databases.
To get started, you can visit the website of ClearMyRecord (http://www.clearupmyrecord.com/what-to-expect-how-long-a-record-expungement-can-take.php) to check the details of expungement in different states. If you are unable to get your record expunged, you can apply to have it sealed. Sealing means that public searches will not turn up anything about your previous criminal matters.
You should find out the cost for getting your records expunged. This varies in different in different states. You will find that you may have to pay different agencies during the expungement process. In some states, you can apply to have the court pay the fees or some of the fees for you. If you choose to use an attorney, you may have to pay over $1,000. The good thing is you can file for expungement on your own if you cannot afford a lawyer.