Most have heard the term “expungement,” but few understand how it works beyond the fact that it enables one to clear their name. Here in Tennessee, expungement, expunction or sealing of records are different legal processes where the arrest, charge or conviction is removed from the state’s legal records or sealed. The benefits of doing this are many, but the most common reason is to improve one’s chances of getting a job, finding a place to live or avoiding some other type of collateral damage brought by a criminal record.
Law enforcement and government agencies retain records of the expunged crimes, but these are now deleted or confidential. Therefore, if one is subsequently arrested or charged after an expungement, the new charges can still reflect the previous charges, and would likely be more severe than if the expunged charges or conviction had not happened.
Who is eligible for expungement?
Not every charge or conviction can be expunged (including most felonies and some misdemeanors). A short list of individuals who are eligible for expungement include:
- Those with a Class E felony conviction of three or fewer years.
- Some with misdemeanor convictions – there are over 40 that cannot be expunged
- Those who were acquitted or had the charges dismissed
- Those who had “no true bill” determined by the grand jury
- The prosecution decided not to pursue a case where you were charged
The conditions for expungement
Expungements can generally only happen after a period of five years. Fees to pay for the filings are also required. Other conditions favorable for expungement include:
- No felonies or misdemeanor charges in the last five years
- Individuals must wait until at least five years from the completion of their sentence (including fines and probation)
- Individuals must have met all the conditions of rehabilitation
- Individuals paid all restitution and have proof of payment
Legal guidance will be necessary
Every case is different, but it is never a good idea to file for expungement, expunction or have criminal records sealed without the help of a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney. Along with the guidelines and paperwork, other challenges will present themselves during the process, some of which can be anticipated when an attorney has a thorough understanding of the process.