What Is Expungement, and How Do I Get My Record Expunged?

Expunge of criminal record. Expungement written on a document.

Expungement is a legal order that requires government agencies, like law enforcement and applicable court systems, to destroy the public records they have of your arrest and/or conviction. Expungements help you keep your record clean if you were wrongly accused, or if you’ve finished the sentence for the crime that you were convicted of. Typically, expungements of arrests or other non-conviction records do not cost anything, and only require that an individual fill out a petition to the court. If your expungement does require payment of court fees, they are usually well worth the price.

What All Does An Expungement Get Rid Of?

As mentioned above, expungements only apply to those agencies who would typically maintain your official, public records, like court systems and law enforcement agencies. And depending on your case, you might be able to expunge everything from your conviction to the records of your arrest. When you get these records expunged, legally you treat the records and the incidents as if they had never happened.

In most situations, like applications for a job or an apartment, when asked if you have any prior convictions, you are allowed to answer no for any convictions or arrests that have been expunged. However, some agencies might be able to access records that have been expunged. Any agency with high-security concerns and access, like the military, might be able to access those records if it is necessary for the situation. This is not a common occurrence though, and not something that the general person needs to worry about.

An expungement also does not apply to private individuals or organizations. Private websites that publish mugshots and arrest information are not legally bound (by the laws concerning expungement) to destroy their publications. We’ve found that some of the common websites that post information about arrests in Chattanooga might, after providing proof that the particular arrest was expunged, but technically it isn’t required that they do. Law dealing with these types of websites is still developing.

Am I Eligible For Expungement?

If you were arrested or charged with a criminal offense that you weren’t subsequently convicted of, chances are you are eligible to have the records of those charges expunged. This includes instances in which you were arrested but never charged, if the grand jury issued a no true bill, if you were charged and it was dismissed, or if you were acquitted. If any of these situations apply to you, you might also be eligible to have the records expunged with no costs. If your charges were dismissed as a result of a pre-trial diversion program, however, you might be charged reasonable court fees. As mentioned above, it is usually well worth paying those fees in order to benefit from having a cleaner record.

Since Tennessee updated its laws concerning expungement, you might also be eligible to have certain convictions expunged as well. The law is tailored towards helping first-time offenders and only allows the expungement if you’ve only ever had one or two convictions.

If you’ve only been convicted once, and are trying to have that conviction expunged, you should refer to TN Code § 40-32-101(g) to see if it is eligible. If you were convicted of a felony, it has to be one of the Class E felonies listed in the section. If you were convicted of a misdemeanor, it can not be one of the misdemeanors listed in that section. It is best to check the list to be sure, but in very general terms, you can not expunge convictions of crimes that were violent or dangerous in nature, sexual in nature, involving drugs, or involved minors. In order to be eligible, the terms of your sentence must also be complete, including having paid any court costs, fines, or restitution, as well as completing any terms of release or conditions that were required by your sentence. You must also wait 5 years after the completion of your sentence before you can petition the court for expungement.

If you have only two convictions, everything above still applies to your case. Some of the added requirements are that the charges can’t both be felonies. They have to be either one felony and one misdemeanor, or both misdemeanors. As mentioned above, these have to be the only convictions that you’ve received, and you can only get 2 convictions expunged once. All of the specifics for expunging two convictions can be found in TN Code §40-32-101(k).

The law surrounding the expungement process can be very complicated. So if you think you might be eligible for expungement and would like to speak to one of our attorneys about your case, please reach out to us through the contact page on our website, or give our office a call.