Expungement of Criminal Records: What is the Law?

As mentioned in the earlier section and as you will go on to read in the sections that follow, there is no single law as far as the expunction of criminal records is concerned. In every state, there is a slight variation in the process of expunction, as well as who or what is eligible for expunction in the first place. In general, a wide range of criminal convictions can be expunged in the United States through the rules governing each state, from a simple parking violation to more serious felonies.

Once a person’s criminal record has been expunged, he or she has the legal right to claim that they have absolutely no criminal history at all. In the preceding section, various advantages of expunction were discussed. Among other things, if a person is able to get their criminal history files expunged, then they will able to find employment much more easily and are more likely to be extended a contract for housing by a property owner. Furthermore, they will also be allowed to apply for various state licenses and can run for public office. With no criminal record, it is also going to be easier for them to join various professional clubs, organizations and associations. In addition to this, and perhaps most importantly, having one’s criminal history cleared offers peace of mind to the individual as well.

As far as federal offenses are concerned, it may be slightly difficult to get expungement for these convictions, although this tends to vary according to the federal circuit. One federal circuit, for example, may allow the judge to retain their right of granting expungement to an individual who is entitled to it, while another federal circuit may not allow expungement under any condition.

In the years 2007, 2009 and 2011, Charles B. Rangel, a United States Representative, presented a proposal for the Second Chance Act. The purpose of this Second Chance Act was, as the name implies, to give an individual who had been charged of a criminal conviction a second chance. Rangel proposed through the Second Chance Act that the federal level criminal code should be slightly amended such that a person who has been charged for a criminal offense that is nonviolent in nature can appeal to the court to have their criminal record expunged.

The Fresh Start Act was introduced in 2011 by another United States Representative known as Steve Cohen. This was introduced at the 112th session of Congress. The Fresh Start Act is somewhat similar to the Second Chance Act. It has been very aptly named, since the purpose of this Act was to provide people who have been charged with a criminal offense that is nonviolent in nature with the opportunity for a fresh start. This can be achieved through the individual applying for an expungement of their criminal record.

The REDEEM Act was introduced fairly recently in July 2014 by Senators of the United States, Cory Booker and Rand Paul. This was put forth in the form of a bi-partisan bill, and the main purpose of this bill was to reform and review the current system of criminal justice in the United States of America. Like the acts discussed previously, this also allows individuals with federal criminal records to apply for expunction if their offense is one-time and non-violent.

This article discusses the laws for expunction governing each state in great detail. In some states, the process of expunction is not actually expunction in the truest sense of the word. For example, some states refer to the process of record sealing as expunction, in which the person’s criminal record is hidden from public viewing but does not cease to exist altogether. Like expunction, record sealing also allows the individual to legally claim that they have no prior convictions. However, if the court issues an order to this effect, it is possible for other individuals, agencies or institutions who have received proper authorization to view the person’s criminal record.

There are also certain caveats in the law concerning the expunction of criminal records. An immigrant, for example, does not have the right to apply to the court for expunction of their criminal record if they have been convicted for any criminal offense. When an immigrant has been residing in the United States for a significant period, their status may change over time from being a permanent resident to being a citizen. However, the government very closely monitors the individual during this period. Should there be a problem as far as the individual’s criminal history is concerned, it is possible for an individual to be denied citizenship.

For immigrants, expunction does not mean complete removal and obliteration of the criminal record. If an individual was convicted of a criminal offense but then later had his or her criminal record expunged, it will still show up as a conviction next to his or her name when a background search is conducted. In many cases, this has actually resulted in the immigrant being deported to their home country.

Another caveat in the law of expunction of criminal records is that if an individual applies for a position in the public office or security – such as in a law enforcement agency, national security agency or as a security guard – then they need to inform the authorities of any prior convictions, even if they have been expunged. If the person does not reveal this information, he or she will not receive clearance.

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