Approximately 8% of the total US population has a felony conviction.
A felony charge has serious consequences that range from fines to jail time. They can also affect employment, housing, and other important aspects of life.
Considering the impact it can have on your life, getting rid of those records can mean the difference between living a normal life or not. But can you expunge a felony?
Keep reading to find out what can be expunged and how to get started.
What Is Expungement?
The consequences of a felony conviction are serious. When convicted, an individual:
- loses the right to run for or hold public office
- loses the right to vote
- cannot serve on jury duty for 7 years
- cannot legally obtain or possess firearms
- may lose a professional license or permit
Beyond those consequences, a felony conviction can impact your reputation and hinder your ability to obtain employment, housing, financing for large purchases, etc. Today, any potential employers, landlords, and lenders have complete access to any criminal history you have, using just a computer.
Most states recognize the negative impact that even a felony can have on your life. Which is why we have an expungement process.
Expungement involves the sealing and/or destruction of arrest and conviction records. When the records are destroyed, they’re no longer accessible to anybody. In fact, many states physically destroy the record to ensure it no longer exists.
Expungement laws vary from state to state. However, in most states, the individual with the felony doesn’t have to disclose the charge, conviction, or any other details about the record. That’s the case even in states that only seal the record and don’t physically destroy it.
Can you Expunge A Felony?
Most (but not all) states have expungement laws. That’s especially true for common crimes and lower level offenses.
Because they have a less negative stigma, crimes like marijuana possession are easier to have expunged than crimes like assault or robbery. Often times, crimes like rape, murder, sexual battery, or crimes involving a child cannot be expunged.
To determine whether you can have a felony expunged, you have to check the expungement process for the jurisdiction you were charged or convicted in. You can start the process at the county criminal court or the law enforcement agency where you received your arrest.
You’ll want to ask the following questions:
- Is your felony eligible for expungement? Some felonies may be eligible while others are not.
- When is your felony eligible for expungement? Some jurisdictions require a minimum time period before expungement is possible. But in some cases, the judge will allow for early expungement.
- How do you begin the expungement procedure? In some jurisdictions you’ll fill out forms, in others, you’ll need a lawyer. Ensure you know the process before you begin.
- What does expungement mean to your jurisdiction? In some states, records are only sealed and in others, they’re destroyed. You’ll also want to know by who and under what circumstances those records can be opened (if at all).
You might also consider asking about whether you’re eligible for a Certificate of Actual Innocence. This very powerful form of expungement states that the criminal record should never have existed. It also seals the record in the same was a regular expungement.
When You Can’t Expunge a Felony
One situation wherein you definitely can’t expunge a crime is if you’ve been convicted of a felony in the last 2 years. In the case that you have a recent felony conviction, you won’t be able to apply for expungement.
In the case you have another type of criminal conviction (i.e. not a felony conviction), you might be able to work around it. Sometimes a judge shows leniency and will expunge a record even with a subsequent offense. That’s especially true if the 2 crimes are completely unrelated.
However, if you there are a lot of crimes on your record, the judge might not look so favorably on you. A long criminal history decreases the chances that a judge will expunge a crime within the 2-year time frame.
How To Expunge a Felony
There are 3 ways to obtain an expungement.
- Certificate of Innocence. As mentioned, this certificate ensures that the record is not only sealed but that any potential issues caused by the conviction are negated.
- Proof of rehabilitation. This proof demonstrates that a person has taken steps to live a life of exemplary conduct and to correct their past wrongdoing. It can involve demonstrated remorse as well as payment of restitution.
- Pardon from state law enforcement. This is an official notice that you’ve been forgiven for your crime, While your record will remain and you’ll still have to disclose your criminal activity, a pardon can lessen the negative impacts of your criminal history.
Hiring an expungement lawyer can help your chances of receiving an expungement. They’ll know if and when you’re eligible, the process for applying, and what the consequences of your expungement are.
Misconceptions Around Expungement
Many people believe that past convictions disappear from your record after a period of time. While that’s somewhat true for your driving record, the same cannot be said for your criminal record. In order to get a conviction off your record, you have to file for expungement.
Other misconceptions around expungement include:
- the belief that gun rights are restored immediately
- the belief that expungement gives them a better chance at current criminal cases against them
- the belief that expungement is a quick process
- the belief that expungement is solely a matter of hiring a lawyer
In reality, the expungement procedure takes a significant amount of time. That’s especially true when it comes to restoring your right to own firearms and vote. And while a lawyer can help you with the process, the particulars of your crime and the state in which you live will determine your eligibility for expungement.
More Tips and Advice
The answer to the question “can you expunge a felony?” depends on the crime committed and the jurisdiction of the arrest and conviction. While most states allow you to expunge felonies, the ease of doing so depends on your crime as well as current criminal history.
Having a felony expunged means having the crime erased from your history. That means you no longer have to disclose the felony to potential employers and landlords. And if you are eligible for a Certificate of Innocence, you have proof that the conviction should never have happened at all.
For more tips and advice on all kinds of subjects, be sure to check out our blog.