What Is a Federal Expungement?

Renee Booker
Renee Booker
Businesswoman talking on a mobile phone
Businesswoman talking on a mobile phone

When a person is convicted of a criminal offense, in most jurisdictions, the record of that conviction is available to the public when a background search is requested and can negatively affect a person's ability to secure everything from housing to employment. In many jurisdictions, a conviction may be expunged under certain circumstances. A federal conviction generally refers to a conviction of a federal crime and, therefore, would require a federal expungement to erase. In the United States, the option to apply for a federal expungement does not exist; however, a person may apply for a federal pardon, which has basically the same legal effect as a federal expungement would have.

The exact definition and effect of expungement will vary by jurisdiction. In some jurisdictions, an expungement orders the complete physical destruction of all records relating to the conviction. In other cases, expungement simply removes the conviction from public access. In addition, although an expungement may be granted, in many cases, the record of the conviction may still be available to law enforcement or judicial personnel.

In some countries, such as the United Kingdom, a conviction for a minor offense is automatically erased after a specific period of time, which eliminates the need to file for an expungement. In Mexico, a criminal conviction, including felonies, only stays on a person's record for a specific number of years after which time it is not available to the public. In the United States, however, both state and federal convictions stay on a person's record for life unless legally ordered to be removed through an expungement or pardon.

Within the United States, a person may be convicted of a crime under either state or federal law. Consequently, in order to erase a record of conviction, the offender must look to state expungement law or federal expungement law. Most states within the United States allow expungement of some convictions under certain circumstances. United States federal law, however, does not provide for federal expungement. An individual who has been convicted under a federal law in the United States must secure a pardon in order to erase the record of the conviction from public records.

The Office of the Pardon Attorney at the United States Department of Justice handles all requests for pardons of federal offenses. In order to receive a pardon, an applicant must submit the request to the Office of the Pardon Attorney; however, all pardons must ultimately be approved by the President. If granted, a pardon has the same basic effect of a federal expungement. Also similar to many expungement statutes, a federal conviction that has been pardoned will still be available to law enforcement agencies and to government agencies if the person applies for employment with the agency.

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