What is Expungement?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Expungement is the destruction of a criminal record or an entry in a criminal record. People sometimes use this term when they mean "record sealing," to refer to making a criminal record generally unavailable. When a record is truly expunged, however, it is completely destroyed and cannot be made available again. Sealed records, on the other hand, can be unsealed, and may in fact be opened to comply with specific requests. For example, a sealed juvenile record might be used in the sentencing evaluation of an adult offender.

An expungement may allow an arrest to be removed from an individual's record.
An expungement may allow an arrest to be removed from an individual's record.

The process of expungement is civil in nature, with the person who wishes to have a record or records expunged approaching the court to request that the record be destroyed. If the request is granted, the material is destroyed and removed and the event is treated as though it didn't happen. Someone who was arrested for shoplifting as a teen who had the record expunged, for example, could legally say that he or she was never arrested, if asked on a job application. There may be certain cases in which people are required to disclose the nature of expunged records, however.

Once an arrest has been expunged, it doesn't need to be reported on applications.
Once an arrest has been expunged, it doesn't need to be reported on applications.

There are some requirements which must be met for an application to be granted. Felonies can be extremely difficult to expunge, and in some jurisdictions and situations, they cannot be expunged at all. In most cases, someone must generally be a first time offender with a good record.

Expungement could remove an arrest for a minor charge, such as shoplifting, that was committed when someone was younger.
Expungement could remove an arrest for a minor charge, such as shoplifting, that was committed when someone was younger.

There is also usually a waiting period. Someone cannot, in other words, receive a guilty sentence and then turn around and file for expungement. Instead, several months or years must elapse before the application can be filed. The judge can opt to deny the request for expungement on the grounds that the person does not have a good record, that the offense was repeated after the initial offense, and for other reasons.

An arrest may be expunged if it is discovered law enforcement used questionable means to obtain a conviction.
An arrest may be expunged if it is discovered law enforcement used questionable means to obtain a conviction.

In the case of record sealing, aspects of someone's legal record can be placed under seal, which means that they are not generally available. A sealed legal record used to be literally sealed with a mark, explaining the origins of the term. As with expungement, the offenses in the record are treated as though they never occurred. However, a sealed legal record can still be accessible to certain people, such as law enforcement, by request. In some regions, records which have been sealed for a set period of time may be automatically expunged.

Expungement is more likely to be granted if the offense was committed while a person was underage.
Expungement is more likely to be granted if the offense was committed while a person was underage.

The laws about sealing and expungement vary by region and crime. People who are interested in removing adverse events from their criminal records should discuss their options with a lawyer. There may be several options available and a lawyer may have specific advice for the client.

The expungement process cannot be used for incidents of vehicular assault or manslaughter.
The expungement process cannot be used for incidents of vehicular assault or manslaughter.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon82933

In the state of Ohio you can have felony charges expunged. I am currently in the Cuyahoga County Drug Court having plead "guilty" to 3 Felony 4 charges and they will all be expunged after I finish their program. This included probation, drug testing, drug rehab/treatment and going to court in front of a judge once a month to monitor progress. We also have a fee of $150.00 that must be paid upon graduation, but the judge can waive all or some of this amount as he/she sees fit.

I must add that I consider myself blessed to be apart of this program. It has changed my life for the good along with I will have no felonies damaging my record. I recommend anyone who is offered this program to take advantage of it. The program usually lasts 9 months to 1 year. It takes another 30-60 days after for the record to be expunged.

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