If you are facing criminal charges, the last thing you’re probably thinking about is your criminal record. After all, the idea of spending time in prison, paying exorbitant fines, or even having to deal with something like community service or a driver’s license suspension seems like a far bigger deal.
But what you may not realize is that having a criminal record dramatically decreases the odds that you can find a job, rent an apartment in a good neighborhood, qualify for a loan, and more. Worse, it sticks around for life – even if you are not convicted of your charge!
If you are still lugging around a criminal record years after being charged, you may feel like you’re continually being punished for mistakes you made many years ago. In these cases, many people seek expungement, which means your criminal record is destroyed or sealed against public access. There are a couple of ways to get your record expunged, but it is not easy to get an expungement or record sealing granted.
Talk to a Knowledgeable Lawyer about Your Odds for Expungement
In most cases of recurring criminal activity, you will have a hard time earning an expungement or even a sealed criminal record – especially if you attempt to represent yourself.
For first-time offenders, or for those who were minors at the time of the conviction, the odds are much higher. Also, if you were only arrested or earned a misdemeanor conviction, you are more likely to earn an expungement than someone who has one or more felony convictions. If you’ve served your time for the offense, and have had a clean record for an extended period of time, sometimes you can also be granted an expungement.
In some cases, part of your criminal record can be expunged, but not all of it (for example, you may be able to remove a misdemeanor, but felonies stay on your record in most cases). There is also a probation period after serving time in jail before a record can be evaluated for expungement, depending on the crime.
What it comes down to is one simple fact: seeking an expungement or record sealing is not an easy process. Here’s what you need to do.
File a Petition. Expungement starts with petitioning the court that convicted you in the first place. You can either send in your petition by mail or drop it off in person. Filing this petition costs money – $120 plus an additional $9 for each charge or case you want removed from your record. You can ask to have these fees waived if you can’t afford them, but the court doesn’t have to agree.
Hire an Attorney. Much like you need an attorney to defend you in a court of law, you can use an attorney to help plead your expungement case. This can help a lot, especially in the eyes of the judge, as it shows your commitment to the process. The attorney may also be able to help with petitions, court dates, and general proceedings in regard to handling the court.
Expungement Doesn’t Always Mean Gone
Keep in mind that your expunged records may be able to be viewed in cases of specific government jobs or public service jobs (with very high security clearance levels), or with regards to sex offenses. In most cases, the general public cannot view the documents or your criminal history, but some things can’t stay hidden.
Again, the best way to both understand how expungement and record sealing works and succeed in your bid to make it happen is to contact a knowledgeable lawyer who has successfully handled these types of cases before.
About the Author:
Andrew M. Weisberg is a former felony prosecutor who now serves as a defense attorney in the greater Chicago area. He has extensive experience in handling all types of criminal cases, from sex offenses and domestic violence to retail theft-related crimes, Murder, and drug crimes.