How to legally erase your criminal record

Updated April 09, 2017

A criminal record can cause you serious hardship. It can make it difficult to obtain a job or receive an education, let alone the embarrassment of having to explain you past to friends and family. Fortunately, in a lot of cases, you can legally erase your criminal record. Once your record is cleared only courts can see your record, the public cannot. You don't have to tell future employers that you have been convicted of a crime.

Gather all court papers concerning your conviction. Note the date of conviction, date of completion of jail time and the date of the completion of all terms of your sentence, including payment of fines, completion of classes and end of probation.

Research the expunction laws of the state in which you were convicted. Laws concerning expunction vary from state to state and can be called expungement, sealing or setting aside. Use the Internet and search the state's courts websites or Department of Justice to find a plain-English explanation of the law.

Reference your court papers to see if you are eligible to erase your criminal record. Most states restrict the types of crimes that are eligible and restrict violent crimes, felonies, crimes involving children and sex crimes. You must also wait a certain period of time from the date of conviction, completion of jail time or completion of all the terms of your sentence.

Find the procedure for filing a petition to erase your record. Some states allow you to mail a petition to the Department of Justice or the convicting court after printing the petition off the Internet and including a set of fingerprints taken at your local police department. Some states require you to obtain a petition at the convicting court and filing it with the clerk after paying a fee.

Receive notification from the state and cooperate. Your petition will likely be heard in a closed hearing that you do not need to attend. You may be requested, in some cases, to attend the hearing and explain your petition to a judge in front of the prosecutor.

Receive a judgment on your petition. Once your expunction request is accepted your criminal record will be legally erased. You may be required to mail a copy of your accepted petition to any agency you want to erase your record.


Some states make expunction requests complicated and difficult. If the laws you research are complicated, you may want to hire a lawyer to submit the petition.

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About the Author

Christopher Michael began writing in 2010 for He received a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Writing sports and travel articles helps support his professional baseball career, which has taken him to 49 states, five continents and four oceans.