People who have been convicted of a felony have trouble getting their lives back to normal. Fortunately, there is a legal proceeding called expungement that can help. This is the only way that individuals can clean up their criminal records. It may not always be easy, but it can be successful when the right process is followed. Whether a person needs to buy a new car or house or apply for a job, a clean criminal record can make a big difference. With this, it is best to opt for an expungement in order to come out with a clean slate.
Convicted offenders should be aware that their criminal records will never disappear on their own. They have to do something to delete them. The court has the power to have these records eliminated. This means the judge will decide if the applicant qualifies. If they do, the individual’s record will be erased and sealed from the public. With this, no one will ever get access to the information including employers who need to do a background check.
Each state has its own laws governing expungement. Generally, it takes around three months to one year or more before their conviction is expunged. It basically depends on the state’s laws. In addition, it may take more time before the record is totally removed from local, state and federal databases.
The law recognizes that being convicted of a single offense may not always explain a person’s real character even if the case is a felony. There will always be extenuating circumstances that the judge may take into account. This is where courts base their decision when approving or denying the expungement application.
Qualifications for Expungement
Qualifications to get a felony expunged vary in every state. However, convicted individuals who do not commit additional crimes have a better chance. They should ideally have a minimal number of offenses with a significantly low level of severity. People convicted of felonies like rape or sexual battery, child pornography and crimes against minors are definitely not eligible for expungement. Generally, less serious crimes or non-violent crimes like prostitution or drug possession are almost always qualified.
Some states have special rules for cases that can be expunged. In California, there is a law called Three Strikes that penalizes the offender with a life sentence if they have committed three felonies. Even if an individual committed a felony in California and had it expunged, being charged with additional felonies is still counted for the Three Strikes law. Although the crime will not appear on their record, it will be cited if they commit another felony.
Some crimes may also be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor before they are entered into the person’s record. With this, it is always best to seek help from experienced lawyers on how to reduce the charges. Doing so makes it a lot easier for a crimes to be expunged immediately after the convicted person serves his or her sentence.
What Expungement Can Do
• It can restore eligibility for student loans even after drug conviction.
• It can help smooth out the process for housing and loan applications.
• It can improve credit ratings.
• It can help secure job certification and licenses without the hassles.
• It allows individuals to move on without fear and shame.
• It gives the authority to an individual to deny conviction.
What Expungement Can’t Do
• An expunged conviction may still be counted when another felony is committed.
• An expunged conviction counted as a strike remains as a strike.
• An expunged conviction does not delete the criminal record. It will only be dismissed. Nevertheless, the type of crime committed will never be disclosed.
• An expunged conviction does not restore firearm rights lost due to committing a felony. This can only be brought back when it is reduced to a misdemeanor.
• An expungement does not excuse a sex offender from registering. They still have to do this even if the conviction has been expunged.
• Applying for a government job still requires admission of the conviction. However, the dismissal will be emphasized.
The Expungement Process
Individuals who want to have their felony expunged must follow their state’s laws pertaining to the qualifications and process. The following are the steps they should take for the expungement.
1. Determine if the conviction is eligible for expungement.
• Read the state’s penal code.
Potential applicants for expungement should know that every state has their own penal code that stipulates the guidelines regarding this legal process. There are a lot of exemptions in these codes. With this, it is best that they take time to read and understand everything carefully. Alternatively, they may seek legal counsel to explain everything to them and determine if they qualify.
• Wait for the right time.
Application for expungement should be done at least one year to a maximum of five years from the date of conviction depending on the state.
• Applicants should have fully served their sentence.
The court does not allow expungement for applicants who have not yet completed their sentence terms. Generally, a person can only have his or her felony expunged when they have completed the incarceration period or probation and paid all fees, fines and restitution in full. They also have to appear during all hearings.
Alternatively, applicants who have pending probation may request early termination prior to the expungement petition. Otherwise, they have to complete their probation terms first.
• There must be no further convictions within one year of the first conviction.
• Probation for the conviction subject for expungement must not have been revoked or reinstated.
2. Determine the type of expungement applicable to the case.
There are three types of expungement that a convicted felon should be aware of before applying for this legal process. Categories for expungement include cases where probation was not ordered, those when probation was ordered but not completed and situations when probation was ordered and completed.
3. Secure a Copy of Criminal Records.
Applicants should secure a copy of their criminal records for every conviction to expunge. These documents are necessary when filling out papers for expungement.
4. Procure all required forms.
There are two forms that need to be filled out when applying for expungement. No matter what type of expungement is needed, the same forms will be used. This includes the petition for dismissal. These forms are available at the law library or court house and can be downloaded from websites.
In addition, it is always best to attach a letter that explains the reasons to expunge the criminal record. The applicant should point out things like their plans for the future. They should also add the crimes they committed, the reason for doing so and how their record negatively affects their lives. Applicants should enumerate how the conviction injured their personal, financial and professional life. It is also a smart idea to include classes, training or education taken after being convicted. Most importantly, they should include their religious affiliations and any 12-step programs they have taken part in.
There may be employers, community members and clergy who want to help the applicant. They can do so through writing a letter explaining their support. However, it should never be attached to the petition for dismissal. Instead, present letters to the judge during the hearing. Moreover, applicants should bear in mind that they need to have a separate petition and order for each conviction they want to expunge.
5. Prepare the forms.
Documents to be prepared may vary by state. Generally, applicants need to have five copies each of the declaration, order for dismissal and petition of dismissal. Additionally, they have to secure receipts or proof that they have paid all fees, fines and restitution. They may also have to pay for processing fees and secure stamped, self-addressed envelopes.
6. File the forms.
All documents and expungement forms should only be submitted to the state where the conviction occurred. There are also fees to be paid for each type of petition. Low-income petitioners may get fee waivers.
7. Serve the forms.
Serving forms is the recommended formal way of sending documents to the parties involved such as the district attorney and probation department.
8. Appear at the court hearing.
The petitioner may have to appear in court for a hearing. However, those who have met all the requirements don’t have to do so. Instead, they can wait for the decision to be sent to them. Expungement is automatically granted to those who qualify. The court clerk will indicate the exact date when the court makes the ruling.
9. Reapply if denied.
Petitioners who have been denied in the court hearing may seek advice from the judge about what they can do in order to expunge their conviction. The reapplication for expungement should take place three to six months after the petitioner adheres to the judge’s recommendations.
Expungement Processing Time
In Florida, successful expungement seals the criminal record. Employers may know about the record but not the details. Completion of expungement in the state takes about five to seven months. This includes the time to file for the petition until receiving the certificate of eligibility.
In California, the expungement process takes about eight to ten weeks. Successful expungement in the state means potential employers will never find out and cannot ask about criminal records. However, the petitioner may need to appear in court during the process.
In New York, the penal code only allows sealing of cases where charges have been set aside or dismissed. The expungement is only applicable to non-criminal cases such as disorderly conduct.
The time needed for the expungement process may take several months to a year or even more. It depends on how strong the evidence is to support the petition and the state’s legal system. People who want to expunge their conviction may face a lot of hurdles. However, a successful expungement could mean a clean record for the rest of their lives as long as they do not commit another crime.
Expungement is a good way to start a new life. This is especially true for those who were only convicted of a single felony. Expungement gives everyone a second chance. However, everything does not end with a successful petition. The expunged conviction can still be recalled if a new offense is committed.