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 isexpunged, the process may also be referred to as "setting aside a criminalconviction." The availability of expungement, and the procedure for getting anarrest or conviction expunged, will vary according to the state or county inwhich 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. Afterthe expungement process is complete, an arrest or a criminal convictionordinarily does not need to be disclosed by the person who was arrested orconvicted. For example, when filling out an application for a job or apartment,an applicant whose arrest or conviction has been expunged does not need todisclose that arrest or conviction.
In most cases, no record of an expunged arrest or convictionwill appear if a potential employer, educational institution, or other company conductsa public records inspection or background search of an individual's criminalrecord.
An expunged arrest or conviction is not necessarilycompletely erased, in the literal sense of the word. An expungement willordinarily be an access ible part of a person's criminal record, viewable bycertain 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 crimescommitted after an expungement, or in immigration / deportation proceedings, anexpunged conviction that is "under seal" may still be considered as proof of aprior conviction.