How to Expunge Your Criminal Records: A Complete Step-by-Step Guide for All 50 States

Expunging criminal records tends to vary across the different states that make up the United States of America. The basic process is generally the same: the individual with the criminal record files a petition for expunction with the court that is located in the county in which the criminal offense was carried out. However, there are differences in the documents that are additionally required to be submitted by the individual.

The exact nature of the process also varies in different states. While some states allow eligible individuals to apply for expungement so that their criminal records are completely wiped clean, others only offer the option of having the criminal records sealed. Thus, the options that are available to people residing in different states are slightly different. In addition to this, who or what is eligible for expunction also differs across the states. While there may be some commonalities, it is possible that a person convicted of a certain crime may be able to have their record cleared in one state while another individual in the same position in another state may not be considered eligible for expunction.

The main purpose of this piece is to provide its readers with a step-by-step guide of how to apply for expunction. The process itself is not short – indeed, it can take up to six months for a person to finally have their criminal records cleared. Furthermore, it is also important for the person to know which petition form needs to be filled out and what information needs to be provided. If the information provided is missing or incomplete, chances are that the person’s petition will be declined. We will also discusses the additional documents that a person needs to send along with the petition, depending on the state that he or she is residing in. Some states, for example, ask the individual to hand in an original fingerprint card that can be obtained from a clerk’s office or the local sheriff’s office. The purpose of having this fingerprint card is so that the court can identify the individual.

We begin by discussing the very basics of expunction and why one would need to get his or her criminal records expunged. A number of possible benefits have been discussed, such as ease of getting employment and housing, as well as the ability to apply for state licenses or posts in various public offices or law enforcement agencies. More than anything, even if a person is not really gaining anything visible from having their criminal records expunged, they will gain closure and a peace of mind that would help them to move on comfortably with their life.

After discussing the basics of the expungement process and what the law has to say about it, we will briefly talk about the difference between record sealing and expungement. Although these two terms are often used interchangeably, there is a slight difference that is important to understand.

Learn More About Expungement Of Criminal Records
Expungement of Criminal Records: The Basics
Expungement of Criminal Records: What is the Law?
Expungement vs. Sealing Criminal Records
Foundation for Continuing Justice: What Is It?

State Specific Information

Different states in the United States of America have different rules and regulations when it comes to the expungement of an individual’s criminal records. The nature of “expungement” also varies from state to state. According to the true definition of the term, to expunge a criminal record means to completely destroy the criminal record. This means that a person is completely cleared of that particular criminal offense for which the petition has been made. The record also ceases to exist so no one has access to it ever again. However, this form of expungement is not always available in every state.

expunge-criminal-records-guideIn some states, expungement is the term used to describe the process of erasure or record sealing. In erasure, the person’s criminal record is completely erased. The ruling court may also claim that it does not have any criminal records or files for that individual. However, in reality, this criminal record does exist. In record sealing, a person’s criminal record is hidden from the public. This means that no member of the public can come to view a person’s criminal history. However, the court has the power and the authority to issue an order that can allow a certain law enforcement authority or individual to view the criminal history.

As mentioned above, the nature of the expungement process is different in different states. In some states, certain criminal offenses automatically undergo erasure, while in other states, a person has to file a petition for each individual criminal offense in order to obtain expungement. Furthermore, there are also slight differences in the rules of expungement with regards to people who hold juvenile or youthful criminal records.

The following sections contain a detailed discussion and a step-by-step guide of how an individual can go about seeking pardon, record sealing, erasure or expungement in each state in the United States of America. You may wish to seek expungement for a number of different reasons.

Firstly, most job applications ask you whether you have been convicted for a crime. With a criminal record, it can be harder for you to obtain a job. If you decide to lie about your criminal history, you may have to face worse consequences.

Secondly, it is also harder to get a loan if you have a criminal history. This is because this makes it likely that you are a person who is not capable of meeting his or her financial obligations. You might not get a loan or you might have to pay a higher interest rate.

Thirdly, if you are considering adoption, it will be next to impossible for you to be considered by any adoption agency if you have a criminal record. Lastly, you may also want to clear up your criminal record for the simple reason of being able to have peace of mind. You might find it hard to adjust to normal life knowing that you have a skeleton in the closet, which is why you may want to petition for expungement.


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