A criminal record automatically limits felons’ ability to lead a productive civic life. A felony record restricts one’s access to education, housing, employment, welfare benefits, financial assistance, voting right, and military service.
Many felons made mistakes which led to their arrest and subsequent incarceration. Still, the effect lingers on their background history, leaving a reputation-damaging dent on their ‘slate.’
Are you a felon who looks to clear off such mistakes from your past? An expungement is your best bet.
What is an Expungement?
The “Expungement” word is commonly used during juvenile court proceedings.
The English term “expunge” simply means to “remove completely” or “expunge.”
From a legal view, “expungement” is a legal procedure through which criminal conviction records are sealed or destroyed from federal or state records.
After a successful expungement process, the presiding judge signs an order which notifies concerned agencies of the court’s decision to grant a felon an expungement. This legal document, as well, directs them to destroy or conceal all records from public view.
A felony is thenceforth treated as though it never occurred.
Worthy of mention, a criminal expungement does not equal “forgiveness” for the crime you committed. Instead a Pardon better describes a “Pardon.”
Pardon and Expungement are entirely different legal processes – with unique procedures and effects.
While expungement is a court-ordered clearing of one’s criminal records, Pardon is usually offered by public officials – notably the president or State Governor.
For instance, the U.S president and state governors grant pardons yearly.
Expungement Across States
Although asking about convictions during application is prohibited in some states, some employers still insist on their recruitment/hiring process.
However, while a felony may reduce your prospect of finding a job, it doesn’t completely destroy your chances.
Expungement eligibility and processes vary across states. Typically, Sealing or expungement of juvenile records and other minor crimes are a lot easier.
While some states are a bit lenient with their expungement demands, others can be critical. In fact, some state laws have no provision for expungement.
Depending on your residence, a felon must meet certain conditions before petitioning the court for an expungement. Some of the common criteria include:
- The convict must complete the waiting period, counting from the end of sentence completion – waiting period differs across legal jurisdictions.
- Fulfillment of conviction terms – which may include the satisfaction of probation conditions, restitution, and payment of court dues and fines.
- Proof that a person has no pending criminal convictions or charges.
- Proof of rehabilitation and resolve to impact society positively – through volunteer work, education, and employment.
If you meet the state-specific eligibility requirements, you can proceed to petition the court for record expungement.
Generally, the expungement request is sent to the same court you were tried/convicted. Depending on individual state laws, you may be required to tender proof of your criminal record – along with your petition.
What Felonies Cannot be Expunged
Eligibility and ineligibility criteria vary across states. However, most state courts prohibit expungement of the following records:
- Felonies with a life prison term
- Misdemeanor or felony involving human trafficking
- Felonies convicted in federal courts
- Felonies involving physical or sexual abuse of minors
- Felony involving domestic violence
- Traffic infraction – whether felony or misdemeanor – e.g. DUI
Sadly, in most cases, it is impossible to get an expungement for federal crimes. 18 U.S.C. 3607(c) gives only persons with minor drug offenses the eligibility to record expungement.
Except for that slim category of crimes, there are no federal statutes that grant eligibility to any other category of offenders.
What is the effect of one’s record in getting an Expungement Approval?
Persons with spotty records will most likely not get an expungement approval. Generally, one who has more than a felony record, or a combination of a felony and two or more misdemeanors, or with more than two misdemeanors are not eligible for expungement.
The sad truth is; you are not eligible for expungement if you have spotty records. Ideally, expungement is originally designed to give persons who made a one-time mistake, have realized their errors, and are willing to turn over a new leaf.
What if one gets another criminal charge during their expungement process?
That practically terminates the expungement process. When an expungement petition is filed to the court, the judge sends a notice of hearing to up to 14 agencies under the prosecutor.
The notice then moves from the county prosecutors to the state police, the municipal court that handled the trial and other concerned agencies.
The agencies go through their databases to check if the petitioner has any other pending arrest.
After a comprehensive check, they will report back to the county prosecutors, relating their findings. The county prosecutor, based on the report from the law enforcement, will either challenge or allow the expungement.
So, in the event another arrest comes up during the process, the state police will report the new arrest to the county prosecutor. This will form a strong base for challenging your expungement request.
In that case, the attorney immediately withdraws the petition instead of awaiting objections from the prosecutor and police.
How long does a felony remain on one’s records?
Sadly, felonies do not ever leave your record – except you take relevant legal steps to erase or conceal them.
What does an expungement process entail?
The success of your expungement is largely dependent on the paperwork and, of course, your attorney’s prowess. The more information you give out to an experienced attorney, the higher your chances of obtaining an expungement approval.
Some relevant information you might tender includes: where you got arrested. Saying, “its somewhere around New York” may not be adequate.
Again, when asked the reason for the arrest, many can barely recall specifics.
Knowing what you were arrested for, the place, summons number, whether you have a docket of disposition, and other specifics, will not only help increase your chances of an expungement approval but will speed up the process.
Although an attorney can go search out such information on your behalf, it might take up some extra time.
Can one get a copy of their records to file a petition?
Yes. Not necessarily an official copy, though. If you remember the court where you were tried – of course you should – you can ask the officials for your records.
Does an offender need to appear in court after hiring an attorney?
Typically, it is not necessary to appear in court if you have legal representation. Expungement typically involves paperwork – and that’s what you paid your lawyer for, supposedly.
An exception, however, is where there’s a need for early expungement or where the judge, on special occasions, demands your physical presence at the hearing.
However, showing up in court goes a long way to show your involvement in the whole process and the value you place on the entire process.
Robert Gomez was born and raised in the Bronx, New York. He currently lives in Northern California with “the wifey,” “the kids,” “the dog,” and “that cat,” 🙁 He is also a former journalist who has interviewed murderers on death row. Felonyfriendlyjobs.org was born to help ex-felons get a second chance in life.