Post-Conviction Relief Options
Expungement vs. Sealing vs. Pardon
Being arrested and/or charged with a crime can have devastating consequences on an individual, even if they are truly innocent. Employers, financial institutions, even the general public can all potentially see a record of the arrest or charge. You could be prevented from finding employment, obtaining an education, renting an apartment, or obtaining a business license.
Some states luckily do offer some relief in terms of allowing individuals with arrests or criminal charges to have their criminal records expunged or sealed. Each state is different and some states do not offer any relief or only limited forms of relief (i.e. such as sealing and not expungement). So what is the difference?
With expungement the record of your arrest and/or charges is completely destroyed as if it never happened. All physical and public records are destroyed or deleted. After a record is expunged in most cases you can answer questions related to your criminal background as if the incident never occurred. Obviously the benefits of having your record expunged are enormous and as such states often have strict guidelines that determine whether an individual qualifies or not for expungement of their criminal record. In most cases you can only have arrests or charges where you were not convicted expunged. Since every state is different and the laws are often evolving it is encouraged to find an attorney specializing in expungements in the state where you would like your record expunged.
Sealing your record is another option you may have. When a record is sealed it still exists, however, access to the record is very limited. When a record is sealed it cuts off public access to the record meaning that inquiries by most employers (there are exemptions for some forms of employment such as law enforcement) will not see any record of your arrest or charges. Unlike with expungement though your records still exist within the court and can be accessed by law enforcement and the courts. While record sealing does not give you quite the relief as expungement, it is a viable alternative and often the requirements are not as strict as with expungement.
Another form of relief is a pardon. While this does not eliminate your criminal record, it does essentially exonerate your guilt. The government is essentially saying that you have proven that you are rehabilitated and are forgiven for your crimes. With pardons you can also often get relief in terms of various rights being restored such as having your right to own a firearm. Unlike expungements or record sealing, pardons are usually for individuals who have been convicted of crimes. Like expungements and record sealing, the requirements for pardons vary between states and even the federal government (you can get a Presidential pardon for federal crimes). There are often lengthy waiting periods, hefty documentation requirements, and long waits to not only apply but receive a pardon.
Please note that the above is just a brief summary of each form of relief possibly available to you. As we stated the laws and types of relief available vary by state. It is recommended that you find a lawyer specializing in these matters. To help you find an attorney that has experience with expungements, record sealing, or pardons and make your search for an expungement lawyer a little easier we are compiling a list of lawyers in each state with experience in these matters.
Commonly Asked Expungement Questions
1. Do I need a lawyer to file for an expungement?
The simple answer is yes. Expungement laws vary by state and can be an extremely complicated process. Failure to follow the process properly can result in being denied your request and having to wait additional time (sometimes several years) before you are able to file again, if at all. You are going to want someone familiar with the process in your state and that has experience handling expungement cases. Not only can they increase your odds, they can reduce the time and stress involved in filing.
2. What does it cost to get my record expunged?
The answer to this question will vary depending on state and the attorney you select to handle your expungement request. Some states do require various filing fees and expenses for handling the expungement. In addition, you will have the cost of the attorney to account for as well.
3. What does the process of expungement entail?
Typically you will file a petition with the court to have your record expunged. While each state is different, a typical petition may include a description of your crime, copies of any reports, personal and professional references, proof that since your arrest or the time you were charged that you have positively changed your life, any extraordinary hardships that your record is causing you (i.e. you have a great job but are being held back for a big promotion or are unable to travel to some foreign countries because of your record). It is important to note do not exaggerate your hardships. The courts have heard them all and simply saying I can't find a job is not going to get it, but lying about having a job and creating an employment hardship could be grounds for further charges. You want to be as honest and thorough in your petition as possible. Include as much information that shows the court why they should grant your request. As always, an experienced attorney will be able to help you compile the necessary paperwork and tell you what is and is not needed in your petition.
4. Am I eligible for expungment?
This is a very difficult question to answer here and to be honest we can't tell you if you are or are not eligible. You will need to speak with an attorney in your area to determine the law and requirements for eligibility. In general most states have a process for expungement if you were arrested and/or convicted of a misdemeanor charge. In addition, many states allow certain felony arrests (not convictions) to be expunged as well. Again, each state is different and it is best to speak with an experienced attorney in your state to determine your eligibility. For each state below we have tried to include some basic requirements for expungement eligibility.
5. If my expungement request is granted, what is removed from my record?
An expungement typically means the completed destruction of your criminal record. All records are ordered to be destroyed by the court and you can honestly answer no to questions on whether you have been arrested of a criminal charge. With that said, there are some exceptions. The record of your expungement will be available to law enforcement and on some occasions various licensing boards. Even with an expungement you can still be exempt from applying for some positions. To find out if this applies to you and what the restrictions are you will need to speak with your attorney.
6. How long does it take to get my record expunged?
Each court system is different and the length of time can vary. From start to finish a good estimate to expect is 90-120 days with some cases taking longer and some shorter. It really depends on the nature of your charges, the court system, and how well your attorney has filed the request. An experienced attorney can reduce the time by knowing ahead what the court may look for in the filing.
7. If I file for an expungement is it guaranteed the court will approve my request?
The simple answer is no. There is never a guarantee when it comes to the court system. An attorney experienced in expungements may be able to better your odds, but even that is not a guarantee.
8. What other options are available for me beside expungement?
Unfortunately outside of expungement your options are limited. Some states allow for the sealing of your record. While not quite the complete removal expungement offers, it does give you some protection from prying eyes of the public. Often the requirements for having your record sealed are less stringent than those for expungement.
Another option is for a pardon. While a pardon does not clear your record, it does make it public record that the state has forgiven your crimes. Often you can have all your rights, including the right to possess a firearm, restored with a pardon. There are typically longer waiting periods before you can file for a pardon and they do require significant documentation and proof that you have truly rehabilitated since your crime. The two benefits of pardons is that they are available to individuals who have been convicted of a felony and, while the time and amount of documentation is tremendous, you don't always need an attorney (although I would strongly recommend you hire one).
9. Will expungement or record sealing remove my information from mugshot sites?
The short answer is no. These sites are not notified directly of your expungement or record sealing. They may, however, update your information from time to time based on publicly available records. Since your criminal record will no longer be available to the public after an expungement or record sealing is granted, there is a chance these sites will remove you. In most cases though, you can notify the site owners that your record has been expunged or sealed and ask they remove you from their site.
10. What is the difference between expungement and record sealing?
While most states use these terms interchangeably, they are technically different. Expungement refers to the complete destruction of your criminal records. Record sealing refers to prohibiting access to your records only by court order. Both essentially provide you, as the offender, the same benefit, they are different. Like we said though, most states use the two terms to refer to the same thing, and in most cases states really only seal your records, while they still may refer to the process as expungement.
Find an Expungement Lawyer in Your State
- Expungement Attorneys in Alabama
- Expungement Attorneys in Alaska
- Expungement Attorneys in Arizona
- Expungement Attorneys in Arkansas
- Expungement Attorneys in California
- Expungement Attorneys in Colorado
- Expungement Attorneys in Connecticut
- Expungement Attorneys in Delaware
- Expungement Attorneys in Florida
- Expungement Attorneys in Georgia
- Expungement Attorneys in Hawaii
- Expungement Attorneys in Idaho
- Expungement Attorneys in Illinois
- Expungement Attorneys in Indiana
- Expungement Attorneys in Iowa
- Expungement Attorneys in Kansas
- Expungement Attorneys in Kentucky
- Expungement Attorneys in Louisiana
- Expungement Attorneys in Maine
- Expungement Attorneys in Maryland
- Expungement Attorneys in Massachusetts
- Expungement Attorneys in Michigan
- Expungement Attorneys in Minnesota
- Expungement Attorneys in Mississippi
- Expungement Attorneys in Missouri
- Expungement Attorneys in Montana
- Expungement Attorneys in Nebraska
- Expungement Attorneys in Nevada
- Expungement Attorneys in New Hampshire
- Expungement Attorneys in New Jersey
- Expungement Attorneys in New Mexico
- Expungement Attorneys in New York
- Expungement Attorneys in North Carolina
- Expungement Attorneys in North Dakota
- Expungement Attorneys in Ohio
- Expungement Attorneys in Oklahoma
- Expungement Attorneys in Oregon
- Expungement Attorneys in Pennsylvania
- Expungement Attorneys in Rhode Island
- Expungement Attorneys in South Carolina
- Expungement Attorneys in South Dakota
- Expungement Attorneys in Tennessee
- Expungement Attorneys in Texas
- Expungement Attorneys in Utah
- Expungement Attorneys in Vermont
- Expungement Attorneys in Virginia
- Expungement Attorneys in Washington
- Expungement Attorneys in Washington, DC
- Expungement Attorneys in West Virginia
- Expungement Attorneys in Wisconsin
- Expungement Attorneys in Wyoming