In the 21st century, criminal records have become a severe burden for individuals who must deal with the stigma created by the Information Age. In the past, exhaustive background checks were mostly used by government entities for employment purposes and to manage certain benefits programs. These days, however, a criminal record can prevent individuals from reasonable access to employment, housing and even education.
When asked about their criminal records, individuals are generally expected to provide truthful and detailed information. Failure to indicate otherwise in an employment, housing or school application can result in immediate rejection. This stigma does not apply solely to those who have been convicted of criminal charges; it may extend to those who simply have arrests on their records. For this reason, expunging or sealing criminal records has become an important option for some individuals.
The process of expunging and sealing criminal records varies widely across jurisdictions. Law firms that specialize in these procedures have carved an industry in this regard even though some states offer self-help options for persons who want to expunge and seal their records themselves; however, the process can be complicated and may require court hearings. For this reason, retaining a law firm to assist with expunging and sealing criminal records is generally a good idea.
The First Step: Obtaining a Background Report
The information found on the background reports used by employers, landlords and school admission departments comes mostly from public records. In some cases, however, information such as bad checks and credit card fraud may come from consumer credit reports. Individuals should get a comprehensive background report on themselves before they begin the expungement process.
Some states have different views on what can and cannot be expunged from criminal records. The idea is to seal not just convictions but also all records pertaining to arrests, investigations, probation, and corrections. Not all criminal offenses can be expunged; most jurisdictions will not allow murders and aggravated sexual offenses to be concealed from background checks.
The Court Petition
Criminal defense attorneys who specialize in getting records expunged and sealed will analyze background reports for the purpose of informing their client what can be reasonably stricken. In most jurisdictions, a petition or motion for expungement must be filed in court and a hearing may be called.
Some jurisdictions will allow comprehensive expungement, which means that a judge will issue orders to reporting agencies and even law enforcement departments to seal their court, arrest and investigative records. Other jurisdictions will offer Certificates of Actual Innocence, which are useful when arrest records cannot be sealed.