When Convictions Disappear: The Process of Expungement

Home > Law

When Convictions Disappear: The Process of Expungement

Chloe Seaman
November 3, 2016

Have you ever come across this situation? You know someone has been arrested or convicted of a crime, but it’s not appearing on their public record. Why is this?

Understanding expungement

It is possible for one to virtually erase a crime from their past. Or at least from their public record.

In a process called expungement, one may be able to seal their arrest or conviction records.

This means that if someone is arrested or convicted of a crime – however petty or major – he or she can expunge the arrest or conviction and it would disappear from their records.

To someone viewing the public record, it’s as though this person never committed the crime.

Judges Can Make Convictions Disappear

Just last week, a former Maryland student who was convicted of manslaughter in 2014 had his conviction vacated. This means he will be able to expunge the charges from his public record.

That’s right: Arasp Biparva, 25, threw a punch at fellow student, Jack Godfrey, ultimately resulting in his death, and now his conviction could be erased.

How is this possible?

In this case, the tragic incident was deemed an accident.

In a brawl of 15-20 people outside Cornerstone Bar in College Park, Biparva, who was “assaulted” and “reacting to the violence around him,” sucker-punched Godfrey by mistake. Godfrey was not involved in the fight but was standing in the area where Biparva threw the punch.

Much to the devastation of Godfrey’s family, the judge said “the court is satisfied that the balance of justice is on the side of the Defendant’s motion.”

How is expungement possible?

First, it varies from state to state.

Second, it’s not that easy.

And third, a determination for expungement is usually up to a “judge’s review and decision.”

The Expungement Process:

To get an arrest or conviction expunged, one would have to begin by investigating their jurisdiction’s expungement procedures. This includes going to their county’s criminal court or the law enforcement agency that handled their arrest and inquiring about the following:

  • If the offence is eligible to be expunged. In some jurisdictions, a felony may be ineligible for expungement.

  • When someone may be eligible for an expungement. Sometimes a person must carry out their sentence or probation before they are eligible for expungement.

  • What the process for expungement requires. Obtaining all the correct documents to file with an application for expungement is “perhaps the hardest part of the process.”

  • What happens after expungement. Is the arrest or conviction cleared from all circumstances? Not necessarily. The police department and some licensing boards are two examples in which an expunged record may be found out about.

There may be other cases in which a “Certificate of Actual Innocence” may be obtained. If someone is arrested, taken to trial and found not guilty, they might be able to get a certificate stating they are “factually innocent of the offense.”

Expungement allows someone convicted or arrested to have a fresh start

If someone has an arrest or conviction expunged – or they’ve successfully obtained a “Certificate of Actual Innocence” – their sights on landing a job become much brighter. When an employer asks if they’ve ever been convicted of a criminal offense, they could honesty answer “no.” It’s also common for landlords to ask home seekers the same question.

In instances of drug offenses and juvenile offenses, one “may have an easier path to expungement.”

This should explain why sometimes, even when you know someone had a brush with the criminal justice system and it’s not appearing on their public record, it’s possible they jumped through the hoops of getting their arrest or conviction expunged. Therefore, as far as public records would show, their slate is clean.

Disclaimer: The above is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.