A conviction or arrest on your record can make it difficult to find employment and housing opportunities. Even if your case was dismissed or you were exonerated, that doesn't mean that the record of the incident was automatically sealed.
An expungement is a court-ordered process in which a person's conviction or arrest is sealed or erased from his or her record for most purposes. This means that he or she should no longer required to disclose the arrest or conviction when applying for a job or a rental agreement. Additionally, if a potential employer or educational institution conducts a background check or public records search, an expunged conviction or arrest will not be disclosed.
However, expungements do not completely erase the record, even if the charge(s) is dismissed —it is still accessible to law enforcement and some other government agencies. An expunged conviction can also be used as a prior conviction for any crimes committed in the future.
Which Convictions Are Eligible?
Each jurisdiction has different eligibility requirements for expungement. These are often determined by several factors, including the nature of the offense and the person's criminal history. In Rhode Island, for example, violent crimes like murder, sexual assault, larceny, kidnapping, and child molestation are not eligible. Domestic Violence cases usually have a longer waiting period for expungement eligibility.
The Expungement Process
The expungement process can take months from beginning to end, and it varies from state to state. Typically, a person seeking an expungement must fill out an application or petition and submit it to the appropriate criminal court for a judge's review. Most jurisdictions also require the applicant pay a fee when filing his or her paperwork.
In Rhode Island, a court hearing is also required in which the individual seeking expungement must demonstrate that he or she is of good moral character and has been successfully rehabilitated. It is a good idea to have a lawyer present who can present your case. If the judge grants the expungement, a motion will be filed with the clerk of the court. A copy of the approval should also be mailed to the attorney general and police department where the individual was charged. The legal process can be tricky to navigate, so a consultation with a seasoned lawyer is a great first step. If an arrest or conviction is keeping you from moving on with your life, an expungement may offer you a way forward.