What seemed like a youthful lark at the time can sometimes become an embarrassment in adulthood. Occasionally, personal incidents become incorporated into public records after the judicial system becomes involved. In circumstances such as these, citizens can request that records be expunged, sealed, or altered. The laws governing alterations of public documents vary widely from state to state, with Hawaii allowing great latitude for individuals who were not convicted of crimes.
What Is Expungement Or Sealing?
In most states, sealing records prevents the majority of people from accessing the official information, while expungement usually is a process that permits public records to be destroyed and the incident regarded as if it never happened. Hawaii's law creates a slightly different system, under which "expunging" a record means it is sent to the attorney general's office and erased from electronic databases. As a result, information would not show up during most routine background checks that potential employers conduct, and people would be permitted to answer "no" when asked if they have ever been accused of a crime.
However, the records are not actually destroyed, and there is no guarantee that information never will be revealed. In fact, Hawaii law grants federal and state law enforcement agencies broad access to expunged records for purposes of investigations and sentencing reports, or if the individual is seeking a security-sensitive position.
In general, the law applies to arrest records only, and there are limitations on who can request expungement:
- Juvenile arrest records automatically are sealed for those who were not convicted.
- Minors who were convicted may apply for expungement upon reaching age 21.
- First-time offenders convicted of minor drug violations may apply if they were younger than 21 at the time of the offense and have completed all court-ordered probationary or treatment requirement.
- Those who were arrested but not convicted.
What Information Is Required?
Juveniles in Hawaii apply for expungement with the family court that handled their cases, and adults apply with the Hawaii Criminal Justice Data Center. Simply complete the application and submit it, along with the required fee—$45 for the first request, $60 for subsequent requests—in the form of a money order or cashier's check.
No information other than what is requested on the application is required, though a certified dismissal order can be helpful. People who cannot remember the exact charges can simply write "all expungeable" under the offenses category on the application. A thumbprint is required on the application.
By law, the agency is required to process the application within 120 days.
Though it does not result in criminal convictions being sealed or expunged, a pardon remains a possibility for those who want to regain civil or political rights such as voting, serving on juries, or possessing firearms. In Hawaii, the process begins with completing a three-page application to the state Paroling Authority. A parole officer will investigate and then forward the information to the parole board. If the parole board recommends a pardon, the Department of Public Safety and the Attorney General's office review the case in even more depth. The entire packet—all investigations and recommendations—goes next to the governor, who has the sole authority to decide.
This article is a general overview of Hawaii expungement law. For specific questions about individual cases, consult a local attorney.