Expunging criminal records: everything you need to know

Last updated: April 23, 2024
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Eleana Bowman
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Expunging criminal records: everything you need to know
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Everyone is entitled to a fresh start, including you. But when you’re job hunting, it may feel like past mistakes are stubborn obstacles.

Having a criminal record can feel like carrying an invisible, heavy weight. But record expungement can lessen that burden.

In this article, the Jobcase team will help you learn how to expunge records. It's a critical process that can unlock more job opportunities.

We'll also guide you through understanding what expungement means, the step-by-step process, and the empowering feeling of life after a successful expungement.

By the end, you’ll have the knowledge and tools to overcome these hurdles and kickstart a new, promising chapter in your life.

What are expunged records?

Expungement is a process that removes all records of a crime from your record. Essentially, if a crime is expunged, it’s like it didn’t happen. Expunged and sealed records are often used interchangeably, but sealed records are hidden from public view (except for certain government agencies). Expungement is a step beyond this — the paper trail is destroyed.

The reason this matters is simple. Once you’re arrested, a criminal history record begins whether you’re guilty or not. Since criminal records are a part of background checks, employment, housing, loans, and other opportunities become harder to access.

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An expunged record removes these obstacles. It’s not an easy or fast process, but it allows you to be more than just your past.

Can all records be wiped clean?

The short answer: no. Depending on your state, some criminal offenses are eligible while others aren’t.

Criminal offenses not eligible

Typically, felony offenses aren’t eligible for expungement. This includes crimes like:

  • murder

  • sexual assault

  • arson

  • DUI (driving under the influence)

There are more potential violent and non-violent offenses that can also fall into the ineligible category.

Ineligible offenses vary from state to state. For example, DUIs in some states are eligible for expungement. It’s best to check with your state’s laws for what can be expunged and what can’t.

Criminal offenses eligible for expungement

On the other hand, many misdemeanor convictions and non-violent felonies often qualify. Some qualifying offenses include:

  • juvenile records

  • arrest records

  • low-level misdemeanors

  • dropped charges

However, expungement isn't a one-size-fits-all process. Just as traffic laws vary from one state to another, so do expungement laws. Due to these state-specific differences, checking your local and state laws is vital.

While expungement offers a powerful means of moving beyond past mistakes, its potential largely depends on the nature of the offense and specific state laws.

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Most state government websites offer resources to help determine your eligibility, serving as a useful starting point in your journey toward expungement.

The expungement process: step-by-step

You’ve already begun the process of checking your eligibility. Now, let's walk through the rest of the steps in the process.

Step 1: obtaining your criminal record

The first step is securing your criminal record — a comprehensive account of your past offenses. This document is instrumental in confirming your eligibility and guiding you through the resulting paperwork.

You can generally ask for your records from your state's Department of Justice (DOJ) or your local courthouse. Many states and local precincts gather information differently. If you go to your local police department, you might only see local arrests or convictions on your report. Make sure you check your state’s DOJ website to confirm how to obtain the entire record. Websites like the National Expungement Database can also help you navigate the process.

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Once you have the document, you can begin comparing your record to your state’s eligibility requirements for expungement.

Step 2: filing the petition for expungement

Once you've confirmed your eligibility, the next step is filing a petition for expungement — a formal request asking the court to erase your criminal record. The necessary forms typically require information about your criminal history — case numbers, counties/precinct, and dates — which you can find on the record you obtained in Step 1. Some forms will also require evidence of rehabilitation.

Remember, these forms can vary by state, so it's crucial to obtain the correct ones. For example, in Georgia, multiple forms and instructions are available online. Here, you must list out the reasons you’re asking for an expungement and how you qualify. In Missouri, you only provide your criminal record information on the online form. Texas requires you to pick up the paperwork in person. Your state’s petition process will be on their DOJ website.

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Filing the expungement petition is one of the hardest parts of the process but it’s worth it in the end. Often there’s a waiting period prior to submitting the petition, depending on the nature of the crime. Make sure you check the paperwork carefully. Missing information or improper filing can cause delays or even stop the petition process.

Step 3: the review period

After filing your petition, it enters a review period during which a judge assesses your request. This waiting period can range from a few weeks to several months, depending on factors like the complexity of your case and the court's workload. Patience is key during this stage.

You may also need to attend a hearing to present your case — think of this as an opportunity to show the strides you've made since your past offenses. Practice stating why you’re requesting an expungement.

Step 4: receiving the order of expungement

If your petition is accepted, the court will issue an Order of Expungement — an official document confirming your record has been deleted from the database. Remember to safely store this document, as it's proof of your expunged record.

The journey to expungement may seem daunting, but by breaking it down into these actionable steps, the process becomes more approachable and manageable. Your commitment to this path is more than just about clearing your record — it's about creating opportunities for a promising future.

Can you expunge records yourself?

While a lawyer can help navigate the twists and turns, they’re not a must-have. Depending on the amount of time you’re able to put into the process, a lawyer may not be necessary. However, if at any time you feel like the process is confusing, reach out for legal advice from a professional.

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The idea of hiring a lawyer can seem costly. However, the right lawyer can save you time and money in the long run. Make sure that you ask questions about the potential lawyer’s experience, for a fee quote, and if they have a money-back guarantee. These questions can help you find a qualified lawyer without hidden fees.

Embracing the job market after expungement

With your record now expunged, it's time to gear up and step into the job market with newfound optimism. Here are actionable steps to make the most out of your job search:

  • Refine your resume — Highlight the skills and experiences that make you a valuable candidate. Consider using a functional resume that focuses on both the required skills and the soft skills that you've acquired over the years. A functional resume can also help you smooth over gaps in your employment history.

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  • Job hunting with confidence — With an expunged record, you can confidently apply for roles and no longer worry about the “criminal record'” checkbox on job applications. Consider leveraging job search websites like Jobcase to research openings in your desired field.

  • Work on your interviewing skills — Most people get the jitters right before an interview. Check out common questions, along with tips to ace the interview. And practice your responses. Consider any questions that you might have for the employer, too. Remember, your record has been expunged, so there’s no need to discuss that part of your past.

  • Continue personal growth — There’s no doubt you’ve already worked hard to get where you are. Now that more opportunities are open to you, it’s a great time to gain the skills required for new careers. Whether you search for training programs, take online courses, or even spend time volunteering, you’re adding to your employability and to your overall well-being.

You’ve learned a lot as you’ve navigated how to expunge records, and you’ve come a long way. It’s time to walk into your next career phase with confidence.

The next chapter awaits

From the get-go, embarking on the journey of expungement can feel like an uphill battle. But here you are, more equipped than when you started. You now know how to get your criminal record, how to file an expungement petition, and what to expect during the waiting period.

This process isn't just about removing a blemish from your past; it's about creating an open door for a new future.

With your strength and the resources available at Jobcase, the path to a brighter future is clear.

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