Call us: 800.246.8000
What Is “Expungement?”
expungement attorney tad morlan springfield mo

To “expunge” is to “erase or remove completely.” In law, “expungement” is the process by which a record of criminal conviction is destroyed or sealed from state or federal record. An expungement order directs the court to treat the criminal conviction as if it had never occurred, essentially removing it from a defendant’s criminal record as well as, ideally, the public record.

It is not uncommon among juvenile court proceedings to encounter the term “expungement,” or find an expungement order issued by the court.

It is important to clarify that expungement is not “forgiveness” for committing a crime—that is a legal pardon. Likewise, pardons are not expungements and do not require removal of a conviction from a criminal record. In the United States, pardons may be granted by public officials. The President, for example, issues pardons annually. State governors may also pardon certain defendants in their states. Expungement proceedings, however, must be ordered by a judge, or court.

Each state has its own laws about whose records are eligible for expungement, which offenses may be expunged, procedures for application, and definitions of how records will be managed under an expungement order. Juvenile records are the most common, but many states also allow adult defendants to seek expungement of their records.

An expungement order concerns specific matters and specific courts, and nothing more. Expungement orders do not remove records from the press, Google, or social media. It depends on the matter that is being expunged, but sometimes additional documentation about the matter exists outside of the court’s jurisdiction. Without additional legal actions, the court cannot expunge such things as news stories, social media posts, interviews, or, in some cases, arrest reports made by police departments outside the court’s purview. Expungement orders cannot completely erase public record.

An expungement order does not privatize criminal activity. While it removes a particular arrest and/or conviction from an individual criminal record, the underlying object of expungement remains public. Court records and police blotters permanently document the expunged incident, and those officials integrally involved retain knowledge of the event. An expunged arrest and/or conviction is never truly removed from the public record and thus is not entitled to privacy protection.

There are many reasons why people want to expunge their records, including privacy concerns. But there is a limit on what can be forgotten in today’s information age.

The courts struggle each day with trying to balance public interest and an individual’s right for anonymity when they seek sealing or destroying certain documents related to legal proceedings.

About the Author

Debug user