When you have a criminal record, no matter how minor, employers, landlords, and others may find it hard to take a chance on you. Many states allow you to have these records expunged or sealed so the public cannot see them. Wisconsin's rules on expungement are very strict, but if a criminal past is making it hard for you to move forward, it can be an option worth exploring.

What Are Expungement and Record Sealing?

By their original definitions, expungement meant destroying records and sealing meant blocking them from public view without destroying them. Today the terms are often used interchangeably. Many states, including Wisconsin, rarely if ever destroy records, even if their statutes refer to expungement. Sealed records are often available to the courts and other law enforcement officials for specific purposes.

Are Your Records Eligible?

For most adults, the answer is likely "no." Wisconsin statutes regarding expungement are more lenient toward younger offenders. For example, at the sentencing for a juvenile under age 18, the court may order the relevant records expunged once the sentence has been completed successfully.

The court may make a similar order for records related to crimes committed when you were under age 25 if you meet these additional requirements:

  • The prison time for your crime is no more than six years.
  • The court believes you will benefit and the public will not be harmed by expungement.
  • Your crime was a Class H or I felony, was not a violent offense, and you have no other felonies on your record.

The expungement may not be automatic. You may still need to file a petition.

Successful completion of your sentence includes complying with conditions of probation and not having any additional convictions since the one you want expunged. You can request to have arrest records removed and your fingerprint card returned to you if you were acquitted or if the charges were dropped or dismissed.

How Do You Request Expungement?

To have a conviction expunged, you must file a Petition to Expunge Court Record of Conviction in the same court that convicted you. This form asks you to acknowledge that you meet the requirements for expungement and you understand only court records will be expunged.

To have your fingerprint card returned, you must submit a Fingerprint Record Removal Request to the Crime Information Bureau. The form requires an inked fingerprint impression to verify your identity.

Does a Pardon Clear Your Record?

No. If you receive a pardon, your record will contain a notation indicating the pardon. But it is still available to the public. It is very difficult to obtain a pardon in Wisconsin. They are usually reserved for convicted felons. You must have completed your sentence at least five years before applying.

As of early 2013, the governor suspended the pardon program. The office is keeping already-submitted applications on file, but is not accepting new ones. It is unclear when or if you will be able to apply for pardons in Wisconsin.

Should You Speak With a Lawyer?

Yes. This is only a brief overview of the rules in Wisconsin and is not legal advice. Wisconsin laws have changed in recent years. Your eligibility may differ depending on when you were sentenced. To get answers about your specific case, it is important to speak with an attorney who handles these cases regularly.

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