Featured News 2020 Can You Seal or Expunge Federal Convictions?

Can You Seal or Expunge Federal Convictions?

While state laws are clear about what it takes to expunge a conviction (and which convictions are eligible to be expunged), federal courts do not have such clear guidelines. If someone was convicted of certain drug possession offenses, they can expunge the conviction in federal court, according to 18 U.S. Code §3607. This law also dictates expungement of federal juvenile drug possession conviction. Also, if a service member's conviction is overturned, they can have their DNA analysis expunged.

But beyond that, whether or not a federal court will expunge a conviction varies from court to court.

Location Matters

There are 13 federal circuits in the nation, and in each circuit there are federal courts and appellate courts that hear cases from their respective region. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals, for instance, would only hear appeals from federal courts in Connecticut, New York, and Vermont, as those regions make up the Second Circuit. Whatever decisions an appellate court makes will affect all the courts in that circuit, but that circuit only. Only a U.S. Supreme Court decision can influence every single circuit.

For expungement, that means only some circuits give federal courts a great deal of latitude when it comes to sealing arrest or conviction records. Other circuits do not authorize judges to seal records. This means that your ability to get a conviction sealed could hinge entirely on the place where you were convicted. If you are in one of the several circuits where a judge has the authority to expunge your record, then a skilled criminal defense lawyer could present a strong argument to the judge to persuade him or her to seal your record.

Getting a Criminal Record Sealed in Federal Court

When a federal judge can erase a criminal record, they do so rarely. Expungement might be granted if someone was lawfully arrested, but the charge stemmed from a law that was ruled unconstitutional. It might be granted if there was a mass arrest, and there would be no way of telling whether or not the arrest was lawful. It might be granted if an arrest was unlawful or the police records were improperly used.

But to be clear, these conditions do not apply to many arrests or convictions. Your lawyer would have to show the judge that your arrest or conviction was in some way a violation of your legal rights.

An attorney may be able to argue that your criminal record will not be needed down the road in criminal investigations, that the records are not necessary for the safety of the public, that the records are probably going to be used improperly, or that the arrest was the result of severe police misconduct.

How would you get started on this process? Again, there are no guidelines. There is not even a form to fill out. The process could start with a letter or an application. A local attorney could know the best way to contact a judge about your case.

Benefits of an Expunged Record

If your arrest or conviction records are sealed, that means that most employers, landlords, lenders, etc. will no longer be able to see these records. While a criminal record usually means that the doors are closed to a good education, a decent job, or a nice place to live, an expungement reopens those doors. So for example, if you are in a job interview and you are asked if you have ever been convicted of a crime, and your only conviction was expunged, you can legally and truthfully answer with a "no".

To find out if your record is eligible to be sealed, do not hesitate to consult a criminal defense lawyer today!

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