Dear GirlLegal: Hello, I need advice on getting a charge erased from my criminal record. The charge is 5 years old and I want to know if I need to hire a lawyer or can I go through the process myself. If so, where do I begin?

Dear Jerry: You want to know if you can erase a charge from your criminal record, and how. I will need to answer this question in several parts, and I hope the following information helps you.

Expunging a charge from your criminal record can be a bit complicated, and it is advisable to hire an attorney to do this for you. First, I’ll explain expungement and its potential effects, and then the basic process to expunge a charge from your record.

When a criminal record is “expunged,” in most senses the record is treated as if it does not exist. However, there are limits to expungement as some states maintain separate registries for people who have been convicted of child abuse or sex offenses, and the expungement of a criminal record may not affect those registries.  This means that for those particular charges a record of the arrest/conviction may remain on separate records, even if the court records or conviction is expunged.

States have very different rules on expungement. Some states may not allow expungement, while others may limit its availability to people who have only one criminal conviction on their records; but other states may be more generous. A lawyer can help you investigate the policies of the jurisdiction which issued the conviction to determine whether you are eligible for expungement.

Keep in mind that even if a record has been sealed or expunged, evidence of the criminal conduct may remain on part of the public record. For example, even if a conviction is expunged or the court record was sealed, there may be a public arrest record associated with the incident, and there may also be a record of the fact that a criminal charge was filed even though the results of that arrest is not publicly available.

Expungement is not the only option available to clear your criminal record. Most jurisdictions have a process where you can apply for a pardon. While an expungement is typically issued by the court in which a person was convicted of a crime, a pardon is an executive action which can partially or fully lift the effects of the conviction. Another option is to seal your criminal record, although this usually occurs only with juvenile records (and sometimes even then only if they stay out of trouble during their first few years of adulthood). Again, there are differences in the process, because in some jurisdictions juvenile records are sealed automatically, while in others it is necessary to bring a motion within a certain number of years of adulthood in order to have the record sealed. It is very unusual for the criminal convictions of adults to be under seal.

Thanks for visiting - I strive to respond to all questions as a  free service to the internet community on an ongoing basis. The intent is to provide answers that are both practical and useful. Feel free to ask questions and link back to this website.

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