It’s important to prepare for your first appointment with an expungement lawyer. Expungements and pardons involve a detailed legal and factual analysis. In order to evaluate your claim and provide accurate legal advice, the lawyer must have a lot of information. While every lawyer has his or her own interview process, this is a list of common questions.

Where Did the Offense Occur?

Expungement laws and procedures vary dramatically from state to state. Some states permit the expungement of a wide variety of criminal records, while elsewhere expungement (or record sealing) is more restricted. The lawyer cannot provide accurate advice unless he or she knows which laws apply to your case.

Additionally, you typically must file your expungement request in the court that handled your criminal case. If you have any court documents, bring them with you to the appointment.

What Was the Offense?

Sometimes, a state’s expungement rules vary depending on the severity of the offense. It typically is easier to expunge a misdemeanor than a violent felony. (For example, there may be extended waiting periods or other requirements for serious felonies.) And, most states prohibit the expungement of certain criminal offenses. These typically include violent crimes, sex crimes, and serious drug offenses. (Again, these rules vary from state to state.)

At your appointment, be prepared to discuss your criminal history in detail. If you have any police reports, court documents, or other information, bring them with you to the appointment. 

Were You Convicted?

Some states only permit the expungement of non-conviction records. Non-conviction records include:

  • Arrest records (that did not result in criminal charges),
  • Charges that were dismissed or withdrawn,
  • Cases ending in an acquittal, and
  • Cases that were resolved through a diversion program.

If you were convicted of a crime, you may have additional requirements in an expungement claim. For example, you typically must complete the terms of your sentence (including probation and the payment of fines) before you are eligible. If you have documents showing the successful completion of your sentence, bring them with you.

Do You Have Other Arrests or Convictions?

Many states limit the number of times you can expunge your record. Depending on where you live, you may be eligible for a single expungement. Other states require you to file a separate expungement request for each individual criminal offense. And, most states will not expunge your record if you have pending criminal charges. Be prepared to discuss your criminal history in detail.

When Did the Crime Occur?

Many states impose waiting periods in expungement cases. These waiting periods vary from a relatively short period of time to decades. In order to determine your eligibility, the expungement lawyer must understand when the crime occurred, when you were convicted, and when you completed your sentence (including probation and the payment of fines).

How Old Were You at the Time of the Crime?

If you were a juvenile at the time of the criminal offense, it may be easier to expunge your record. Most states have relatively generous rules about juvenile expungements—especially if you haven’t been charged with or convicted of subsequent crimes as an adult.

Do You Have Evidence of Rehabilitation?

In order to expunge your claim, you may have to convince a judge that it is in the community’s best interest. To prove this, you can show that you have a steady job, returned to school, and are otherwise contributing to society. Be prepared to discuss your lifestyle since your arrest or conviction.

What Should I Bring to a Meeting with an Expungement Lawyer?

It is important to bring any evidence you have to your first appointment. This may include court and criminal justice records and evidence of rehabilitation. This information will help the lawyer evaluate and understand your expungement claim. 

Where Can You Find the Right Lawyer?

Before you file on your own, consider meeting with an expungement lawyer. Expungement claims can be very complicated—and a single mistake may result in a denial of your request. A lawyer can help you understand your rights and ensure that your claim is properly presented to the judge.