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Expungement is a process by which a person's criminal records are treated as if they no longer exist. Each state has different options and limits regarding expungement, but all states permit some form of expungement or record sealing for juvenile offenses.

While each state may differ when it comes to the qualifications and requirements for expungement, eligibility for expungement will typically involve the following:

  • Application for expungement in writing with the court where the conviction happened;
  • The original sentence must be completed served and finished; and/or
  • The applicant is not facing any new or additional criminal charges.

The burden is generally on the person applying for expungement to show that their probation or other requirements have been completed. In addition, the application for expungement will usually only be good for one individual case (the one they are applying to have expunged). If the person wants to have multiple records or charges expunged, they will need to file separate applications.

Once all the documents and forms have been submitted for expungement, the judge will then review the petition and determine if the person is eligible for expungement. Individual courts can often have additional procedures or their own process for expungement.

What is the Difference Between Expunging Your Record and Sealing Your Record?

The term "expungement" is often used interchangeably with other similar terms, especially the term "record sealing". However, expungement is different from record sealing in a few important ways. When a criminal record is expunged, it is treated as if the charges never exist, and they are no longer associated at all with that person's criminal history. It generally means that the charges have "disappeared" from the court system.

On the other hand, record sealing means that the charges do still exist; however, the records cannot be accessed as the records are closed to the general public. This means that persons or parties such as employers cannot gain access to those records, even though they still technically exist in the system.

In fact, in some states, a sealed conviction can sometimes be used to increase the severity of a future sentence. This is applicable in cases where the person's record as a "repeat offender" may be of interest. This can happen even if the records are technically sealed.

Expungement and Sealing of Juvenile Criminal Records

Juvenile records may be either expunged or sealed. Most juvenile records are automatically sealed. You may also request an expungement after a waiting period. When juvenile records are sealed, they are not available for public viewing without a court order. However, sealed records may available to schools and law enforcement under certain circumstances. Expunged records are completely removed. The expungement of juvenile criminal juvenile records is automatic in many states, but this varies and you should seek the advice of a qualified lawyer that specializes the sealing of juvenile records. Generally, expungement is only available to those who have maintained a clean criminal record in the intervening years between. Again, individual courts may have their own procedural preferences for filing for juvenile expungement.

Expungement of Misdemeanors from Your Criminal Records

In general, a misdemeanor is defined as a particular category of crimes that are considered to be more serious than a citation (i.e., a ticket), but less severe than that of a criminal felony (i.e., money laundering or human trafficking). 

One distinguishing feature that separates misdemeanor offenses is that their charges usually only result in a jail or prison sentence of less than one year. In contrast, felonies are punishable for up to a year or greater of imprisonment.

Regardless of the lesser severity of punishment, misdemeanors are still classified as crimes. Thus, they will appear on your criminal record; potentially, even for the rest of your life. In other words, a misdemeanor will generally show up during a background check and could possibly prevent you from getting a job. 

As for the term “expungement,” expungement is a legal process in which a person who has been convicted of a certain crime may be able to have their conviction either sealed or cleared. This means that after their record has been expunged, the crime will be removed from the public records and treated as if it did not occur. 

Therefore, the two terms together—“misdemeanor expungement”—can be defined as when a person who has committed a type of misdemeanor crime, such as a traffic offense or petty larceny, has it removed from their criminal record, or alternatively, has that part of their criminal record sealed off from public access.

Do Misdemeanors Go Away?

As previously mentioned, misdemeanors generally appear on a person's criminal record for the rest of their life. This means that unless a state has a statute prohibiting background checks from going back further than a certain amount of years, a future employer will be able to see that the person was convicted of a misdemeanor.

The main way to prevent such a situation from occurring is by having a criminal record expunged of the misdemeanor. Although misdemeanors are easier to have expunged than felonies, there are still certain factors that may not permit a person to remove the misdemeanor at all.

Some of these factors include the laws of the state, how long it has been since the offense was committed, the type of misdemeanor that was committed, and whether there are other crimes listed on the person's record.

For example, while most sex crimes are classified as felonies, there are some forms of sexual misconduct that fall under misdemeanor crimes. Sex crimes of any kind are generally not expungable.

Whether or not a misdemeanor is expungable could also depend on the degree of the misdemeanor committed. For instance, many states provide varying definitions for misdemeanors, including the level or degree of severity the offense rises to, which will then lead to separating them into different classes of misdemeanors, such as Class 2 or B, 3 or C, and so on. 

As another example, suppose someone is convicted of a Class A or 1 misdemeanor. This usually involves crimes like prostitution or possession of a controlled substance. Due to the seriousness of the crime, it will most likely not be expungable. Depending on the circumstances of the case, however, the person may be able to request to have the record sealed.

Do All Misdemeanors Show On Your Criminal Record?

Unless the laws of a particular state say otherwise, or the person is not convicted of the misdemeanor they are charged with and/or the decision gets overturned, a misdemeanor will stay on a criminal record indefinitely or until it is expunged. 

On the other hand, if the person is a juvenile defendant, then not only are they more likely to receive a charge for a misdemeanor when they have committed a crime, but also most jurisdictions will seal the person's juvenile criminal juvenile records once they turn eighteen. Again, this will depend on the laws of the state and the circumstances surrounding the case.

Even sealed though, a person's record is sometimes still accessible by requesting a court order to have it unsealed.

An expungement is the only way to have a misdemeanor completely removed or erased from a person's criminal record, and the result would be, from all public access.

How to Expunge a Misdemeanor From Your Criminal Record

It is important to keep in mind that not all misdemeanors will be expungable from a criminal record. 

As discussed above, many decisions will depend on various factors, such as the laws of a particular state, the nature of the crime committed, the facts surrounding a matter, and the criminal history of the individual attempting to expunge their record. 

Also, one other item of note is that the process for expungement in each state varies. For instance, just because a crime is expungable in one state does not mean it is in another, or certain courts may ask for more documents than others.

For example, having a misdemeanor expunged in New York will not completely destroy the criminal record, meaning it will still be accessible via a court order. In contrast, having a misdemeanor expunged in Michigan will destroy it and prohibit the general public from accessing the record.

Again, while this process varies by state, the general steps for filing for an expungement are as follows:

  • First, the person must determine whether or not they are eligible for expungement. This includes being able to show that they have served their sentence, paid any fines, fulfilled any probationary requirements, and so on, in connection with the misdemeanor.
  • Next, the person will have to obtain the proper forms, which will be entitled something like “petition for expungement.” The form may ask the individual to provide other items, such as the conviction paperwork or reasons why the crime should be sealed or expunged.
  • Once the application is complete, it should be submitted to the court as well as any other relevant parties, such as a prosecutor. These parties will review whether or not a hearing should be scheduled.
  • If the application is not dismissed and does move forward to the hearing stage, then the court that initially charged the individual will decide whether or not that person is eligible for expungement, and whether or not to grant their request.
  • The court will then issue an order regarding the approval or denial of the expungement request.

Additionally, there may also be a filing fee and certain costs attached to the expungement process. These will also vary by state.

Can You Expunge a Felony from Your Criminal Record?

Expungement of a felony from an individual's criminal record is an extremely difficult task. Generally, the more serious the crime, the less likely an individual will be able to have it expunged. Felony convictions Felony for crimes such as first degree murder and child pornography are not typically eligible for expungement.

There are factors that may increase the likelihood that the court will consider a request for an expungement. These include:

  • Whether the individual was a minor at the time the crime was committed;
  • The nature of the crime;
  • How much time has passed since the conviction or arrest; and
  • If all court ordered requirements for the sentence are completed.

There is a difference between a felony arrest and a felony charge. A felony arrest occurs when an individual is placed in custody based on the belief that they committed a felony. A felony charge means that an official legal proceeding was initiated against the individual. It is more likely a court will expunge a felony arrest than a felony charge.

A felony conviction felony remains on an individual's criminal record for life. The only way to remove it is through expungement. It can be possible to have felony conviction felony expunged from an individual's record. There are usually state specific criteria that must be met prior to petitioning the court for an expungement.

One the criteria of an individual's jurisdiction are met, they may file a petition with the court for expungement. The petition is typically filed in the same court the criminal case occurred. Depending on the state, other information, such as a certified copy of the individual's criminal record, may be required.

If a Felony is Expunged, Does that Mean it is Totally Erased from My Record?

In most states, a felony that has been expunged is no longer a matter of public record. That means an individual is not required to report the charge or conviction on applications for employment, housing, public benefits, or education. Typically, if the potential employer performs a background check, the expunged felony will not show up.

There are, however, limitations to an expungement. For example, law enforcement agencies can still view expunged records. Both law enforcement and the courts may be allowed to consider expunged charges if they impact sentencing in a later criminal case.

Additionally, many states require a potential employee to disclose expunged offenses if they are applying for positions such as law enforcement, financial services, and/or working with children. An individual may also have to disclose expunged charges when applying for a professional license such as legal, medical, and/or pharmacy licenses.

What Are the Requirements for Felony Expungement?

As noted above, in most states, an individual must meet certain requirements in order to have a felony expungedfelony . Depending on the jurisdiction, the criteria may include:

  • The completion of a waiting period after the conviction, which varies by state;
  • Satisfying the terms of the conviction, which may include serving jail time, completing probation, and/or paying fines and/or restitution;
  • A record clear of subsequent criminal charges and/or convictions; and
  • Proof that the individual is rehabilitated and contributes to society, which may include employment, education, and/or volunteer work.

Can All Felonies be Expunged?

No, all felonies cannot be expunged. Most states will not expunge violent felonies, sex offenses and other serious crimes including weapons charges. The specific felonies that will not be expunged vary from state to state.

Some states do not permit felony convictions felony to be expunged. In such states, an individual can expunge felony criminal felony records only if the charges were dismissed, withdrawn, pardoned, or resulted in a non-conviction, such as deferred sentencing or a finding of not guilty.

Which Felonies Are Not Eligible for Expungement?

Most states that allow felony expungements have limitations on what can be sealed and/or expunged. As noted above, expungement is usually not available to individuals who committed serious or violent crimes. In addition, individuals required to register as sex offenders cannot have themselves removed from the registry when their record is expunged. Federal crimes also cannot be expunged.

Since the laws vary, it can be difficult to state with certainty what is and what is not eligible for expungement. As noted above, the more serious the crime, the less likely it will be expunged. Examples of felonies that are usually not eligible for expungement include:

Certain felonies may still have legal consequences even if they are expunged. This may be the case in states which have three strikes laws, such as California. Under this law, even if a felony has been expunged, it may still count towards the three strikes. So, even if the felony does not appear on an individual's record, they may still be cited if future felonies are committed.

There are some types of crimes that may be eligible for a reduction from a felony to a misdemeanor. A misdemeanor is easier to expunge than a felony, especially for non-violent crimes. Some states will recognize wobbler crimes, or crimes that can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony depending on the facts of the case. A felony reduction lawyer can help determine if a charge is eligible to be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor.

How Can a Lawyer Help to Expunge My Record?

If you are concerned about whether your criminal record may be used against you and feel that you might qualify for expungement, then it's important to contact a lawyer to help you through the process. It is important to have an attorney's assistance to present your best case since a felony stays with you for life. It may be possible to handle the process alone but there are many steps that must be completed in a timely manner and correctly before the court will even consider an expungement request.

A good expungement lawyer can help you understand your options and your rights under the law. If you have any specific questions about the expungement laws in your area or state, your attorney can provide you with legal research for your inquiry.

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