If you’ve been convicted of a felony, it will generally stay on your criminal record for life. However, it is possible to have your record removed from public view through a process known as expungement.
Having your record expunged can relieve you from many of the challenges that having a felony on your record presents. No longer having to disclose the conviction can make it easier to secure employment, obtain professional licenses, and even participate in your community without the fear of facing stigma because of your past. A criminal defense attorney can determine whether your record is eligible for expungement and lead you through the necessary steps to have your conviction sealed.
What does it mean to have a conviction expunged?
Expunging a record (also known as “sealing” a record) makes it so that it is no longer visible to the public. An expunged record still exists but it won’t show up on criminal background checks and cannot be accessed by potential employers, school officials, or any other public entity. While expunging a record doesn’t destroy the record or mean that the felony conviction never happened, it does mean that a person with an expunged record is no longer required to disclose a felony conviction when asked about it.
What is the process of having a felony expunged?
The laws regarding felony expungement differ from state to state. While some states only allow certain types of felonies to be expunged, some others have laws which prevent people with felony convictions from expunging their record altogether. In Florida, for example, it is only possible to have a record expunged for an arrest that did not lead to the filing of criminal charges or a guilty plea (or other adjudication of guilty).
Some of the most common circumstances under which a given state judicial system may consider a record to be eligible for expungement are:
- The offense on record was minor and was not a sex crime or violent crime
- A substantial amount of time has passed since the recorded offense occurred
- The record is of an arrest but there was no conviction of the alleged offense
- The defendant was legally considered a juvenile at the time of the offense
The process for having a felony expunged will depend on the individual state’s laws. It is not uncommon for the filing and eligibility requirements to be demanding or for a mandatory waiting period to dictate the date at which a defendant is eligible to file a motion to have their record sealed (as is the case in Oregon).
California’s expungement process
In California, it is possible to have misdemeanor or felony charges expunged if:
- The defendant has successfully completed their probation, AND
- The defendant did not serve time in jail or prison for the offense or served time in state prison that they would have served in county jail instead under the “Realignment” of Proposition 47.
Can federal felony charges be expunged?
There is not a federal statute that allows for a criminal or arrest record to be expunged. This means that, in most cases, it’s not possible to seal a record of a felony charge or conviction. The only circumstances under which federal courts will order a felony record to be expunged are:
- If the felony record was the result of an unlawful arrest or conviction
- If the felony record was the result of a clerical error in the criminal justice system
What are the benefits of having a conviction expunged?
Expunging a conviction removes it from public view. Some of the many benefits of having a conviction sealed and no longer accessible to the public are:
- Not having to disclose a felony conviction when asked about it on job applications or in interviews
- Not losing eligibility for certain scholarships, grants, or other opportunities
- Not being stigmatized by neighbors, coworkers, or others
- The ability to join professional organizations or obtain professional licenses that require a clean record
- Not having your credibility called into question in any future court proceedings
While a number of states and local governments have banned questions on job applications that require an applicant to disclose prior convictions, it is often still legal for employers to ask those questions once they have offered the position to the applicant. The only real way to ensure that a prior conviction won’t impact your future employment is to have your record sealed.
What are the limitations of expungement?
While having a felony record expunged can feel like a “clean slate” in many ways, it is important to remember that sealing a record doesn’t mean that it will no longer exist. What an expunged record will or will not do varies from state to state, but some common things sealing a record won’t do are:
- Prevent a district attorney or law enforcement agency from using the record to enhance the sentence for a future conviction
- Reinstate a suspended or revoked driver’s license
- Restore a person’s gun rights
- End requirements to register as a convicted sex offender
If you’re considering having a felony record expunged, the first step is to seek the advice of a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney. Your attorney can determine if your conviction is eligible for expungement and, if so, file a motion to have your record sealed.
Robert M. Helfend is a skilled criminal defense attorney with over three decades of experience representing California clients. He is dedicated to finding his clients the best possible outcome in all of their legal matters, whether fighting for them in court or helping them to secure a better future by not having to disclose the mistakes of their past. Call the offices of Robert M. Helfend today to schedule your free consultation – 800-834-6434.