Everyone makes mistakes, and sometimes, those mistakes can have serious consequences. Being charged and convicted of a crime is one of them. However, everyone should also have a chance at a second chance, and that can be tough when a criminal charge is following you around. Once you've finished serving time, paying restitution, or complying with the terms of parole or probation, you may want to find a way to get a clean start.
Take a look at what you need to know about the possibility of expunging your criminal record.
Why Consider Expungement?
Unless you take some action, like requesting an expungement, a misdemeanor stays on your criminal record for life. While a misdemeanor isn't as serious as a felony, it can still cause employers not to hire you and landlords not to rent to you, among other things. There are no laws protecting someone who has been convicted of a crime—even a minor one—from being discriminated against in areas like employment and housing, and many people find it hard to turn their lives around when they have difficulty finding jobs and places to live.
Expungement gives you a better chance at a fresh start. You'll be able to truthfully leave your misdemeanor off of applications and not worry about it coming up in most background checks.
Can All Misdemeanors Be Expunged?
The short answer is no, not all misdemeanors can be expunged. A lot depends on the rules of the state that you live in. In some states, you may only be able to remove misdemeanors that were put on your record in error, or that were never brought to trial. Other states allow more expungements, but may not allow them for certain types of crimes. If your crime was nonviolent, for example, you're more likely to be able to have it expunged. Many states won't expunge misdemeanor sex crimes. Some states, like Illinois, will not expunge DUI records if you're convicted or plead guilty.
There may be other limitations as well. For example, you may only be able to have your misdemeanor expunged if you have an otherwise clean record, or if your record contains only misdemeanors and no felonies. You should also note that expunged records may be reopened if you get into more legal trouble later, depending on the circumstances.
How Can You Apply for Expungement?
If you're interested in having a misdemeanor expunged, you should start by finding out what the laws of the state you were convicted in say about expungement. In many cases, you have to wait a certain amount of time before you're eligible. This may vary depending on the offense. For example, Oklahoma requires that you wait a minimum of five years since the misdemeanor sentence ended if you were convicted to a term of imprisonment, a suspend sentence, or a fine greater than $500.
However, there's no minimum time limit given if your conviction did not involve imprisonment or a suspended sentence, and if your fine was less than $501. That means that the less serious the offense, the faster you can have it removed.
Once you've determined that you qualify for an expungement, you'll have to file an application. Most states require you to file an application with the court that convicted you. You may need to attend a hearing. You'll have to submit court records and other documentation from your arrest and court case, as well as proof of your eligibility.
Once the judge signs off on your expungement, you may have to submit that expungement order to your state's Department of Corrections in order to complete the expungement process. It's a good idea to obtain legal help with the expungement process, as it can be confusing.
Of course, the best way to avoid having to deal with the process of expungement is to avoid conviction in the first place. A good criminal law firm can help you defend against a criminal charge and avoid conviction, or help you arrange for a plea deal to a lesser charge that may be easier to expunge later. Whether you're facing criminal charges now or looking to have a criminal charge removed from your public record, a criminal lawyer in your area can help.