FAQs on expungements, answered
You would think that being found not guilty or having all criminal charges against you dismissed would be enough to clear your good name. Unfortunately, no matter the result of the case, information relating to your arrest and criminal charges remains available to the public unless you proactively remove the public's access to that information.
Expungement is the legal process by which arrest records are sealed from the public. Through an expungement, your arrest records and subsequent charges are not destroyed - the courts continue to have access to them, and police can obtain them with permission by the courts. However, an expungement will prevent future employers and the public from discovering a previous criminal charge.
What are the benefits of expungement?
Future employers, landlords, and the public can find out about your arrest relatively easily through a background check. This can have a huge impact on your future. Despite not being guilty of a crime, when an employer has the option between two qualified candidates, and one has been arrested and the other not, generally the employer will go for the person not arrested. It isn't necessarily fair, but it is human nature.
An expungement can prevent this sort of bias from negatively impacting your life. Being charged with a crime is bad enough - you don't need to be punished for something to which you were not guilty.
What records are eligible for expungement?
Only a limited number of criminal records are available for expungement. If the charges against you resulted in a conviction of guilt, the guilty verdict is not expungeable and will remain on your criminal record.
However, if the charges against you resulted in an acquittal (not guilty finding), a nolle prosequi motion by the Commonwealth, or were otherwise dismissed, then your records may be expunged. You are not automatically entitled to an expungement, however. You must show the court that if your name remains associated with the arrest and criminal charges it will constitute a manifest injustice. The only exception is for misdemeanor charges in which the petitioner has no prior record. If that is the case, then the Commonwealth must show good cause to deny the expungement. Keep in mind that a dismissal after any type of First Offender Status on a drug charge is never expungeable.
A judge is certainly allowed to grant an expungement to someone not represented by an attorney. However, making the case for an expungement is every bit as important as making a sound defense to the original charges. While your freedom may not be at stake in a petition for expungement, that does not mean you don't have a lot on the line. Your family's well-being, your future employment, and your respect in the community can all be affected by the success or failure of an expungement petition. The knowledge, skill, and experience of a criminal defense attorney can be invaluable to its success.
Timothy J. Quick is an experienced criminal defense attorney helping those accused defend their rights and their good name.
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