Arrest and conviction records are available to the public and can have devastating consequences if you have one. Having a record does not mean you have done something terrible, but, unfortunately, it is effectively viewed as such by employers, educational institutions, and even insurance companies. A criminal record carries a stigma, even if you were very young, did something relatively minor, were in the wrong place at the wrong time, were later found innocent, or were convicted of something that is no longer a crime. It can prevent you from getting certain jobs, volunteering, adopting a child, applying for a loan, and renting a house or apartment.
Petitioning to have your record expunged is one solution. Certainly not everyone with a record qualifies, but if you do, having your record expunged wipes the slate clean for most purposes and allows you to live your life without that stigma again. The process usually requires the assistance of an attorney, but is well worth the effort if you are a candidate.
Here’s what you need to know:
Criteria for Expungement
The criteria for having your record expunged vary widely from state to state and between state and federal convictions. In some states, such as Virginia, you can only expunge an arrest if it was dismissed, you were found not guilty, or the prosecution dropped the case. In other states, you can expunge certain types of convictions if you meet strict criteria. For example, in Michigan you might be eligible for expungement if:
• You do not have more than one criminal conviction or juvenile adjudication.
• You were not convicted of a felony punishable by life in prison (regardless of whether that was your sentence.)
• You were not convicted of felony criminal sexual misconduct or assault with intent to commit criminal sexual misconduct.
• You were not convicted of or adjudicated for a traffic offense, or for a non-traffic offense requiring a report to the Secretary of State.
• It has been five years or more since your conviction or adjudication.
• It has been five years or more since your release from prison.
• You are at least 24 years old if you are looking to expunge a juvenile adjudication.
Because the law varies so between states, you should check with an attorney in the state of your conviction for information on whether you qualify to have your records expunged or sealed.
Obtaining a Federal Expungement
Having a federal conviction expunged is even more difficult than a local arrest or conviction and requires a Presidential pardon. Although very few people succeed in obtaining a pardon from the President, there is an application process you can go through if you think it’s worth a try.
To qualify for a federal pardon, at least five years must have passed from the time you were released from prison or, if you didn’t serve jail time, five years from the date of the conviction. The federal pardon process is extremely long, complex, and arduous and should only be attempted with the help of qualified and experienced legal counsel.
Experts in federal pardons recommend keeping a workbook in which you keep all documents, notes, and information pertaining to the pardon application process. Information you will need to compile includes a list of all criminal offenses both prior and following the federal conviction, military records if applicable, and a very well written statement as to why you should be pardoned by the President of the United States.
Who to Call
If you think you might qualify to have your records expunged or sealed, you need to speak with a criminal lawyer. If you qualify, you will appear in the same court where you were convicted and, if possible, in front of the same judge. Your attorney will be able to advise you on which penal codes apply to your case (for example, whether you were arrested but never went to court, you’ve successfully completed a drug diversion program, or you were acquitted of the crime.) Regardless of the details, you should expect the process to take time.