Expungement and record sealing are similar legal procedures that conceal records of arrests for offenses for which you were acquitted or never charged, or that were dismissed. Some states only allow the expungement of certain first time convictions for nonviolent or drug possession crimes. Others do not permit expungement of any convictions.
What Are Expungement or Sealing?
Although the terms record sealing and expungement are often used interchangeably, record sealing typically refers to concealing juvenile records from the public after you reach a certain age. When granting an order of expungement or an order to seal your criminal record, the court gives you a second chance to live a normal life without the burden of revealing your criminal past. A criminal record can substantially inhibit your opportunity to gain employment, pass security clearances, apply for graduate schools, obtain rental housing, or travel internationally. When your expungement order is issued, you may truthfully state that you have never been arrested, charged or convicted of the expunged offense.
Your criminal record is not destroyed when it is expunged. It is retained by law enforcement and in other criminal databases, although it is not accessible to the general public. It may still be used against you to enhance a sentence if you are ever convicted of certain subsequent crimes. Even if you receive an expungement order, you still must reveal your arrest or conviction under some circumstances, including applying for employment with a court, law enforcement agency or the military. You must also disclose this information to any licensing agency, day care facilities or other facilities children attend, or a government employer. You can state that your arrest or conviction record was expunged, however.
Are You Eligible?
Washington, D.C. expungement law does not permit the expungement of any felony convictions except those for a failure to appear in court. If you were arrested for a felony or misdemeanor offense but were never charged, if your case was dismissed, if you were found not guilty, or if you can prove that you were innocent of the crime, you may have the records expunged. This does not apply to crimes involving fraud, abuse, intoxicated driving, or sexual offenses. For misdemeanors not involving these elements, you must wait two years after the dismissal or acquittal. If your offense involved these elements, you must five years before petitioning the court.
If you were convicted of an eligible misdemeanor, you may petition the court for an order sealing the records or for expungement after 10 years has passed from the date you satisfied all conditions of your sentence, including probation and restitution. You may not apply for expungement of any offense if you have been subsequently convicted of another crime or have another criminal case pending.
Proving Your Innocence
Proving your innocence after being prosecuted in Washington, D.C. is an unusual procedure that allows you to present evidence within four years of your conviction that establishes that the crime either never occurred, or that you were not present when it was committed. The standard for determining your innocence is by a preponderance of the evidence. If you file your motion more than four years after prosecution, the standard is clear and convincing evidence.
Consult an Expungement and Record Sealing Attorney
Expungement and record sealing laws differ among states and they change periodically. If you have an arrest record but no conviction, or if you have a misdemeanor conviction that is at least two years old, consider speaking with a Washington, D.C. expungement and record sealing lawyer about your legal options.