Having a criminal record can be a serious burden on your life. Even with the rise of Ban the Box campaigns, designed to prevent potential employers from asking about criminal history on applications, if you have a record, it can be hard to find a job, get an apartment, or gain custody of your children. Is there anything you can do about your past, though?
While you may not be able to time travel, reliving the past but with better choices, those who feel they have made substantial changes to their lives since their prior conviction may be able to pursue expungement.
Expungements is the legal process of sealing or destroying a criminal record and, while different from a pardon, it can actually be more effective from a practical perspective. They are not, however, available to everyone, and it can be challenging to obtain an expungement.
Sure, this is counterintuitive, but changing laws, such as those that come with marijuana legalization, do in some cases come with clauses about automatic expungement. This is what happened after New York State legalized recreational marijuana, though rolling out all of these expungements can take a while. Once your expungement is issued, however, it can significantly change your material conditions.
Start With A Petition
If you’re not addressing an offense linked to automatic expungement or, alternatively, your state does not perform this step, one of the primary tools you have on your side is a petition to the court. These petitions can be expensive, which is another reason why some policy reform activists endorse limited, but automatic expungements. But the fact is that petitioning the court is often the only way to have your case and your record evaluated for expungement. In order to petition the court, you will typically need the assistance of a lawyer, who can also help you understand other steps you need to take.
Request A Second Chance
It can be difficult to receive an expungement for more serious crimes, but in some states, if you’ve only been convicted of a misdemeanor and have had a clean record for several years, you can ask for a second chance.
As criminal defense attorney Rowdy Williams explains, “Expungements, at least in Indiana, are ideal for individuals who have managed to keep a clean record for several years since their offense. Though only available to people who have not committed a violent offense, along with several other stipulations, if your earlier crime was an aberration, a lawyer can help you pursue record restriction or expungement as appropriate.”
Work With A Legal Clinic
Many experts believe that the barriers to expungement for people who committed minor offenses and have fulfilled the terms of their sentence are too great. As such, some legal clinics offer special clinics focused on expungement. These clinics are typically non-profits and aim to remove the financial and technical challenges associated with even beginning the expungement process, helping low-income people open the door to a fresh start.
Carrying around a criminal record, even for a one-time misdemeanor or other minor offense, can be a heavy weight to manage, which is why knowing how to pursue expungement is so important.
So many people never even attempt this step because they don’t know how to get started, but once you know expunging your record is possible, why would you pass up that possibility?