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If you’ve ever applied for a job or filled out a housing application, you’ve likely encountered the question, “Have you ever been arrested for or convicted of a criminal offense?” Those with an arrest or conviction in their past can have a harder time navigating typical life changes like these. One way to make the process easier is to get the arrest or conviction record expunged. But what does that mean exactly?
What is expungement?
Expungement is the process of sealing records of an arrest or criminal conviction. Once the expungement process is complete, you do not have to legally disclose that arrest or conviction information; you can honestly answer no to the question of conviction (unless another conviction occurs).
How does it work?
Each state determines whether criminal records can be removed and how to go about doing it. Look to the state in which the arrest or conviction occurred for more specific details. Arrests and convictions that are the most commonly expunged in the United States are juvenile crimes, drug cases and first offenses, including misdemeanors. A felony conviction can be harder to expunge, and some felonies, like those requiring a mandatory prison sentence, can’t be cleared from your record in many states.
If Expungement Isn’t Possible
Some states offer options such as certificates of rehabilitation or certificates of relief, which serve as alternatives to expungement. Another possibility is an executive pardon, which governors can grant for offenses under state criminal law and the president handles for federal cases.
Keep in mind that expungement isn’t a guarantee that your background check will come up clean. Inaccurate background checks have lost some people their jobs and blocked others from getting the jobs they want.
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