Expungement (also called "expunction") is a court-ordered processin which the legal record of an arrest or a criminal conviction is "sealed," or erased in the eyes of the law. When a conviction is expunged, the process may also be referred to as "setting aside a criminal conviction." The availability of expungement, and the procedure for getting anarrest or conviction expunged, will vary according to the state or county in which the arrest or conviction occurred. For more basics, download FindLaw's Guide to Expungement [pdf].
Legal Effect of an Expungement
An expungement ordinarily means that an arrest or convictionis "sealed," or erased from a person's criminal record for most purposes. After the expungement process is complete, an arrest or a criminal conviction ordinarily does not need to be disclosed by the person who was arrested or convicted. For example, when filling out an application for a job or apartment, an applicant whose arrest or conviction has been expunged does not need to disclose that arrest or conviction.
In most cases, no record of an expunged arrest or conviction will appear if a potential employer, educational institution, or other company conducts a public records inspection or background search of an individual's criminal record.
An expunged arrest or conviction is not necessarily completely erased, in the literal sense of the word. An expungement will ordinarily be an accessible part of a person's criminal record, viewable by certain government agencies, including law enforcement and the criminal courts.This limited accessibility is sometimes referred to as a criminal record being "under seal." In some legal proceedings, such as during sentencing for any crimes committed after an expungement, or in immigration / deportation proceedings, an expunged conviction that is "under seal" may still be considered as proof of a prior conviction.