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Can expungement completely erase a criminal record?

On Behalf of | Apr 4, 2023 | Criminal Defense

Individuals with prior criminal convictions may find it hard to find employment, housing and other opportunities. But if one is eligible for expungement, rebuilding their life might be a lot easier in every aspect. Does that mean that they can literally start anew with a clean slate?

Starting with a clear record

Not all criminal convictions are expugnable in New Jersey. Generally, only certain offenses are eligible. These are based on several other requirements, and the process can be complex and time-consuming. But, once a judge has ordered an expungement, the individual’s criminal record will be sealed from public view.

With records sealed, employers, educational institutions or creditors will no longer have access to the individual’s information during a background check. They will then have a “clean” slate. If they wish to apply for a job, a degree or a loan, they will be able to do so without disclosing their history.

For many people, being able to hide this piece of information may mean equal chances of getting a job. It becomes an opportunity to continue their education without being judged. It serves as a starting point for their new life.

Does the record disappear completely?

No, expungement does not entirely erase criminal records. It functions more as a seal so the “hidden” data will still be accessible to certain government agencies.

For example, suppose a person gets involved in another crime after expunging their previous convictions. In that case, the court may still refer to their criminal history during a legal proceeding. Law enforcement agents may also be able to check their crime sheets when they get arrested.

In addition, the FBI may not always follow state rules on expungement. They may still retain records of past criminal involvement in their database. So, let’s say an ex-offender applied for federal employment. Expunged records or not, the FBI could still see their criminal history and deny their application if so desired.

Expungement does not mean criminal records are completely discarded. But that doesn’t mean that it won’t allow ex-offenders a better opportunity to rebuild their lives.