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How long does a felony stay on my criminal record?
A felony conviction will stay on your criminal record forever, if nothing is done about it. Anyone who has been convicted for a felony-level offense has to proactively take steps to have the record of the conviction removed.
Those steps are known as the expungement process. If the defendant and the prior felony conviction are both eligible for expungement, the record of the conviction can be sealed from public view.
How does the expungement process work?
Each state has its own process for expunging a criminal record. Many states see the following factors as reasons to allow for expungement:
the record is for an arrest, not a conviction,
the defendant was a juvenile at the time of the offense,
the offense happened a long time ago,
the offense was minor, and
the offense was not violent or a sex crime.
If the conviction was for a felony, the eligibility and filing requirements can be quite demanding. Some states refuse to expunge felony convictions, at all. Many have a waiting period that felons have to abide by before filing a motion to seal their record.
In California, for example, people can expunge felony or misdemeanor convictions if:
the defendant successfully completed the term of probation for the offense, and
the defendant either:
did not serve jail time in state prison for the conviction, or
Because a lot of felonies require time in state prison, this means that many felony convictions don’t qualify for expungement. If the criminal case cannot be expunged, it will remain on the person’s criminal record, forever.
Many other states, like Oregon, allow for specific criminal offenses to be expunged after a specified period of time has passed.2
Some states, though, do not allow for any felony convictions to be expunged. Florida is one of these states. There, a criminal record can only be expunged if it was for an arrest that did not lead
to criminal charges or
to an adjudication of guilty, like a guilty plea.3
Generally, federal convictions for felony charges cannot be expunged, either. There is no federal statute that allows for the expungement of a criminal or arrest record. Federal courts will only issue a court order of expungement if the felony record was a result of:
an unlawful arrest or conviction, or
a clerical error in the criminal justice system.4
The best way to tell if your criminal offense is eligible for expungement is to talk to a skilled criminal defense attorney from a local law firm.
If I expunge a conviction, does that mean it never happened?
Expunging a criminal record does not mean that the conviction never happened. It merely means that the public can no longer see it.
“Expunging” a record is also referred to as “sealing” a record. A felony conviction that has been expunged still exists. It just can no longer be seen. It will not show up in criminal background checks. A person with a felony conviction that has been expunged does not have to admit to it, if asked about his or her criminal history.
What are the benefits of expunging a prior conviction?
not having to disclose the conviction on a job application,
being able to obtain professional licenses or certifications that require a clean criminal history,
joining professional organizations that forbid people who have a criminal conviction in their past,
eligibility for public grants or funds, including scholarships,
not having your credibility challenged in a court proceeding, and
a lack of prejudice from neighbors and members of the community.
Even in states that have “banned the box” that requires the disclosure of conviction records on a job application, expunging a conviction can still help.
States and locales that have banned these questions on the application often still allow potential employers to ask them once a conditional offer of employment has been made. By expunging a felony conviction, job applicants do not have to disclose the prior conviction at this juncture in the hiring process, either.
Is there anything that an expungement will not do?
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.