Expungment of a Criminal Record aka Clearing a Criminal Record

Rarely is it a good idea for someone to represent themselves in a criminal case and applying for an expunction is, at its roots, a criminal case. However, some people either can't afford an attorney or are just determined that they are not going to use one so i thought I'd write a brief article on this issue to cover the basics.

When someone is charged with a crime, from that point forward they have a "criminal record" or a "criminal history" even if they are found not guilty or the case is ultimately dismissed. Years ago this wasn't an issue because charges and arrests were hard to find although convictions were public records.

Then the internet came along.

Unfortunately, this is one area in which the world wide web actually does harm to people. The primary reason is that many companies advertising a proficiency in background checks have sprung up and there is little to no regulation on how they operate. What this means is that the people gathering and disseminating information may not understand what they are doing and may completely ignore what actually happened in a case and lump everything, including a dismissal, in with a criminal history and this forces people into the unenviable position of having to explain a delicate situation to employers or potential future employers as well as others.

The rules on clearing a criminal record, formally known as expungment or expunction, vary from state to state but in most it is a matter of filing a petition with the court or some other governmental entity and having them issue an order to seal the record or clear it. This can then be used to force any background company which has accessed the records to clear that information from their database as well.

There is a good book that provides general information for all 50 states and and forms for many of them at this site.  Even if you are hiring a lawyer instead of representing yourself it would still be a good idea to look this book over so that you know what issues may arise and can discuss them adequately with an attorney. If you are representing yourself then the book provides a basic knowledge of how the system works in your state as well as links to the statutes that will be involved.

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