Sometimes people make mistakes that become regrettable later in life, or occasionally private incidents are incorporated into the public record after the judicial system becomes involved. In such situations, citizens can request that records be expunged, sealed or altered. The law governing alterations of public records varies greatly from state to state, with Alabama regulations falling on the stringent side. Nevertheless, various options remain, particularly for youthful offenders and individuals who subsequently are declared innocent.

What Is Expungement or Sealing?

Expungement is the process by which public records are, in essence, erased as if the incident never happened; sealing is the process by which records remain hidden from the purview of the majority of people. In general, Alabama allows neither, though there are several exceptions:

  • Expungement of forensic evidence such as DNA samples is permitted if there is no conviction or if any conviction subsequently is overturned.
  • Juvenile records may be sealed and then eventually expunged.
  • Arrest records can be eliminated if the individual never is charged or is subsequently cleared; records of investigations into child, spousal or elder abuse also can be destroyed.
  • Legal records can be modified to correct inaccuracies.

Even in the event that juvenile records are sealed, that does not guarantee that information never will be revealed. Health care organizations, for example, can access records with permission from the court. The records also can be unsealed in the event of a subsequent conviction. Nevertheless, the process does provide some protection from youthful indiscretions. Most potential employers who conduct background checks will be forbidden from accessing the information, and it is legal for adults whose juveniles records have been expunged to answer "no" when asked if they have been convicted of a crime.

Are You Eligible?

Although total expungement is not possible for individuals who have been convicted in adulthood, anyone who believes there are mistakes his or her criminal record can challenge the official documents. Juveniles can request that their records be sealed once two years have elapsed since any court order is entered; after they turn 23, they can request that officials expunge the records.

What Information Do You Need?

When seeking a records correction, you will need to provide the case number if the matter proceeded to court, the name of the arresting agency, the date of the arrest and the charge that was filed. You will be required to detail why you believe the arrest was incorrect or what information is incomplete and to state how you obtained the accurate information. Juveniles also will be required to provide details such as case numbers, dates, charges and arresting agency.

How Do You Go About Filing?

Requests covering juvenile records, whether for sealing or expunging, are filed with the juvenile court in the county in which the case originally was adjudicated. Adult record correction requests are processed by the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center. Requests covering abuse investigations must be filed with the agency that investigated. If someone wishes to have DNA evidence destroyed, a request must be filed with the state Department of Forensic Sciences.

Other Options

While expungement is not possible for individuals convicted as adults, the possibility of a pardon remains an option. In order to be eligible, an individual has to have been released from prison and successfully paroled for three years. The pardon, which would restore many civil and political rights, must be requested in writing. A probation officer will investigate, and the state parole board will decide whether to grant the pardon. A pardon does not, however, eliminate the criminal record, and the parole board rarely restores gun rights or agrees to remove someone from the sexual offender registry.

Contact an Attorney

This article is a general overview of Alabama expungement law. Please consult a local attorney if you have specific questions.

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