How Does Expungement Work? | A Complete Guide

A criminal record can have wide-reaching and long-lasting consequences. It can limit your job prospects, hinder your ability to get approved for housing, and subject you to severe social stigma. An expungement is like a fresh start, removing your past criminal record from the public eye and enabling you to live your life without having to constantly reside in the shadow of a past arrest or conviction. If you meet certain criteria, a qualified record expungement lawyer can help you navigate this often complex process. But exactly how does expungement work?

Expungement 101

A record expungement simply removes the public record of a crime; it can apply to an arrest or a conviction. It doesn’t eliminate the record entirely, but it does seal the record so that only certain authorized government agencies—like law enforcement officials and criminal courts—can access it. Landlords, employers, and other individuals performing basic background checks would not be able to view the record of the arrest or conviction. Furthermore, if asked on an application whether you’ve been convicted of a crime, you could legally answer “No” so long as there are no other convictions on your record.

Who Qualifies for Expungement?

The qualifications for expungement vary from state to state, which is just one reason why it’s so important to contact a qualified record expungement lawyer. In California, for example, the petitioner must presently be in good standing with the law, having served all jail time (if applicable), completed any probation, and paid all fines.

The petitioner must have no outstanding warrants and must not currently be charged with a crime. In addition, expungement is usually reserved for first-time offenders. If you have multiple convictions for the same type of crime, your request may be denied. Also, certain crimes may disqualify you for expungement. For example, some states will allow expungement for misdemeanors but not for felonies.

So How Does Expungement Work?

Assuming you meet the basic eligibility requirements for an expungement, your first step is to speak with a reputable record expungement lawyer. The process varies from state to state, but it usually starts with filing a formal petition or application with the court.

In California, you’ll need to file a Petition for Dismissal, in which you outline the nature of your offense and confirm that you satisfied all legal requirements associated with that offense. Your attorney should complete this form on your behalf, as the approval or rejection of your request is at the discretion of the court. They may look at factors such as:

  • How much time has passed since the crime
  • The nature or severity of the offense (sex crimes, for instance, tend to be treated much more seriously than non-violent offenses)
  • The petitioner’s overall criminal record (courts tend to be more forgiving of individuals with a cleaner record)

A qualified attorney can make the most compelling case for your expungement. At Gammill Law, we have represented hundreds of clients in expungement cases; we understand what the courts are looking for, how they think, and how to make the best impression to ensure the greatest chance of success.

Can an Expungement Be Reversed?

How does expungement work long-term? A record expungement is permanent—unless you’re convicted of a similar crime in the future. For example, if you were convicted of petty theft 10 years ago and had the conviction expunged, that crime has officially been sealed. But if you’re then convicted of the same type of crime in 2019, the previous conviction may be unsealed and once again made public.

What if an Expungement Is Denied?

If the court rejects your expungement request, or if you’ve been convicted of a crime that is ineligible for expungement, you may have other options. These include applying for a governor’s pardon and petitioning to have your records sealed and destroyed.

Petitioning for Expungement

If a past arrest or conviction is holding you back, you may be able to have the offense expunged from your record. The first step is to contact a qualified record expungement lawyer. The team at Gammill Law Firm specializes in expungement cases, and we’re licensed to serve clients throughout California and Utah. Contact us at (310) 750-4149 or fill out our form to schedule your first consultation. You will hear from us within 24 hours.