Today, I’d like to teach you a little about what an expungement is; the process by which someone can have their public criminal record expunged in the State of Tennessee; and whether it is advisable to expunge your public criminal record. The information contained in this podcast applies to the State courts of Tennessee, but does not apply to cases that were brought in a Federal Court in Tennessee.
You may also be wondering why I keep emphasizing public criminal records. That is because under current Tennessee law, those are the only records that may be erased; law enforcement agencies and other government entities will always keep a record of the charge—even after a successful expungement.
So, what is an expungement? Simply put, an expungement is the erasure of a criminal charge on a person’s official public criminal record. For example, if someone is arrested for Reckless Driving and that charge is later dismissed—an Expungement would first erase the public criminal record of the Reckless Driving charge in the county where the charge was brought. Once an Expungement Order has been approved and filed, the court clerk’s office is obligated to remove the charge from the local public electronic criminal database as well as any paper copies accessible by the public. The charge should also be removed from the public criminal records maintained by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. There may, however, be records that will not be erased, such as accident reports relating to the criminal charge.
A common question asked of the lawyers in our law firm is: “Can I expunge this case from my public criminal record?” So, let’s first talk about what cases are eligible for expunction.
The first category of cases that may be potentially expunged are cases that have already been dismissed in a Tennessee State Court. The dismissal may be a result of an acquittal, a Pretrial Diversion, or a prior agreement with the prosecutor such as a Judicial Diversion type of probation. As long as a criminal case has actually been dismissed, it is generally eligible to be expunged. The process to do so is very similar to expungements for convictions as discussed later in the podcast.
A second category of cases involves criminal convictions that may be expunged in State Court. These cases were not dismissed, but all of the court’s requirements must have been satisfied. These requirements include things like maintaining good behavior during a period of probation, and payment of the fine and court costs in full.
It is important to understand that not all criminal convictions are eligible to be erased. This depends upon the person’s prior criminal history as well as the nature of the crime sought to be expunged. The criminal cases that are expungable after conviction are detailed in the Tennessee Code Annotated, or you can review them on our website, “https://www.eraseyourrecord.com/.” The relevant statute specifically lists the felonies that may be eligible for expunction after conviction if certain conditions are satisfied. If your crime isn’t listed as eligible, it will not be approved by the court.
Misdemeanors are treated differently. All misdemeanors are expungeable except those specifically excluded by law. Many misdemeanors are not eligible, but a few examples of common misdemeanor crimes that cannot be expunged are: Assault, Stalking, certain drug crimes, and of course, DUI. The good news, though is that if your crime is eligible to be expunged, current Tennessee law now allows up to two separate convictions to be potentially expunged.
Let’s now briefly discuss the process of how someone’s public criminal record is actually expunged. First, an Expungement Petition must be prepared. In this context, the term petition references making a formal request of the court. This process may be complicated because the appropriate case numbers, dates and other identifying information must exactly match the records that the court clerk has on file. Unfortunately, this information is not always accurate. For instance, the court clerk’s office may not contain the middle name of the person petitioning the court. Or the person’s name may be misspelled. If the information doesn’t match exactly, you will have to start this lengthy process over from the beginning.
After the Petition is completed, it is next reviewed by the District Attorney’s representative—usually an Assistant District Attorney. This representative may or may not agree with the Petition. Furthermore, this representative will not be responsible for any errors such as those described above.
The Petition will then be brought to the attention of the court. This means a court date must be scheduled for the case. When the case is considered by the court, both sides may then argue to the Judge why or why not the Petition should be granted. If the Judge approves the Expungement Petition, an Order so indicating must be prepared, signed by all and filed with the court clerk’s office.
Many Tennessee counties have different local rules and regulations when it comes to the process of filing expungements. This makes it very important to consult with an attorney experienced with preparing and filing expungements in that locale.
The next question you will want to have answered is how much will the expunction cost. The answer is that filing fees and court costs vary among court clerk’s offices around the State, but at a minimum, the filing fees for a Petition to Expunge a case usually start around $100.00, although there are circumstances where the fee will be zero. Filing fees will likely be more if your case was dismissed after a Judicial or Pre-Trial Diversion.
Before wrapping up this podcast, I want to be certain to mention that we do not recommend that everyone should have their public criminal record expunged. You may be asking yourself, “why not?” So, let me explain. There are actually several reasons. You may need to prove in the future that your case was dismissed to your employer, or someone else. You may need to prove that your case was dismissed in a future lawsuit.
Furthermore, if you are not a legal citizen of the United States, having your public criminal record expunged could create potential conflicts in the future regarding your citizenship and your ability to remain in the United States. Additionally, having your public criminal record expunged may create issues while traveling internationally. These are just a few reasons someone may not want to have their public criminal record expunged. The problem is that once erased from public record, that action cannot be undone.
The Expungement laws in Tennessee change periodically. We strongly suggest that you speak with one of our lawyers in order to know if your criminal charges are eligible for expunction, to discuss whether it is advisable for you to expunge your record, and, if so, to assist you through the process. For more information, please feel free to browse our expungement website at “https://www.eraseyourrecord.com/.”