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A prior criminal record can haunt you for years, making it difficult to get a job, obtain credit or find a decent place to live. Under certain circumstances, however, you can expunge a prior arrest or conviction, so that, for all practical purposes, it no longer exists.

Qualifying for Expungement

Though the specific rules vary from state to state, the determination of eligibility usually involves two principal questions:

  • Is this an offense for which expungement is allowed? Some states only allow expungement of misdemeanor convictions, or of specific types of misdemeanor/felony convictions. Juvenile offenses are among the easiest to get expunged, provided you have not been arrested for or convicted of crimes as an adult.
  • When are you eligible for expungement? As a general rule, you must have served any sentence, including probation, before you can seek expungement. Most jurisdictions also require that you not be charged with or convicted of any other offense for a minimum period…for example, for five years. In certain instances, you may qualify for expungement if you successfully participate in a diversionary program, such as a substance abuse or driving school after a DUI charge.

Though an attorney can help tremendously in the expungement process, hiring one is not mandatory in most states. You may be able to obtain the necessary forms and complete them yourself.

It’s important to know that, even though you may succeed in your expungement efforts, it may still be found by a licensing board or law enforcement department at some point in the future.

Certificates of Innocence

Some states will allow you to obtain a certificate of innocence, a document issued by the court indicating that you were convicted and imprisoned for a crime you did not commit. If you successfully obtain a certificate of innocence, it is seldom difficult to get the criminal record expunged.