The length of time an infraction will remain on a permanent record varies depending upon the type of infraction and the age of the offender at the time of the infraction. Many minor infractions are removed if the offender completes court-ordered community service or rehabilitation. Juvenile records are usually sealed once the offender reaches age 18 unless the crime was particularly violent in nature. In addition, many states offer citizens the opportunity to apply for an expungement of records, which is a court-ordered mandate to remove an offence from a permanent criminal record.
Most states permit the court to seal juvenile records if a sufficient amount of time has passed since the offence, the offender has not reoffended and the offender has reached age 18. State public policy recognises that crimes committed in a person's youth should not be used against him in most situations through adulthood. To seal juvenile records, most jurisdictions supply a form for the individual to fill out and submit to the court where his original offence was adjudicated. The court will review the applicant's history and past and, if satisfied that the offender has maintained a clean record since his juvenile infraction, will seal the arrest, charge and probation records.
For those with a misdemeanour conviction on their records, the waiting period to apply for expungement can range from one year to up to five years, depending on the jurisdiction and the severity of the misdemeanour. The waiting period begins on the date of "final disposition," which means the day following the final day of probation, parole or the day after release from imprisonment. Final disposition also requires that all court fines, fees and mandatory community service or rehabilitative obligations are satisfied before the waiting period begins. In some jurisdictions, misdemeanour DUI and domestic violence convictions require a longer waiting period than other misdemeanours.
Crimes That are Not Removed
Capital offences and most felonies are not eligible to be removed from a permanent record, no matter how long ago they occurred. Sexual offences including rape, child molestation, sexual deviancy and obscenity are not eligible for removal. Violent assaults, robbery, burglary and felony thefts are typically not eligible for removal either.
Expungement is the process by which past offenders can apply to have their record sealed. After the offender has submitted the necessary paperwork and paid the filing fee, a judge will review the case to determine if the offender is a good candidate for expungement. He must show a change in lifestyle and can have no subsequent convictions on his record. Once a record is expunged, it is as if it never existed. Those with an expunged or sealed record can honestly attest to employers that they do not currently have a criminal record. In addition to the waiting period, the expungement process can take a few months to complete.
- YouthLaw.org; How to Seal Juvenile Records; National Center for Youth Law; April 2004
- Alameda County; Record Sealing Packet; Alameda County Probation Department; January 2010
- Cleveland Heights Court; Instructions for Sealing a Criminal Record
- City of Henderson; Sealing Misdemeanor Criminal Records; Office of Henderson City Attorney; April 2008