The expungement process can help people who have a criminal history remove those crimes from a background check, but many people ask, how long does an expungement take?
This questions isn’t easy to answer, because expungement requirements differ from state to state and court to court, and there is not a precise timeline that broadly applies.
However, the good news is that there are some consistencies and general expectations as well as ways to check the current status, which apply to every state, and impact how long does an expungement take, once it’s started.
This comprehensive guide explains what expungement is and what it is not, which criminal records are eligible for expungement and when they qualify in all 50 states. It also outlines which states have updated expungement laws, how to pursue an expungement in all 50 states, and how to see the current status of an expungement case.
It’s important to note that not everyone will need expungement. Knowing what will show up on a criminal background check is the first step. Simply learn how to do a background check on yourself to find out if you have any records that need to be removed.
Expungement vs Sealing of Criminal Records
The terms expungement and sealing are often used interchangeably in criminal law discussions, but they are actually quite distinct. Expungement, sometimes called expunction, is a legal process that results in the complete erasure of a specific record. The effect of a “true” expungement is that the record ceases to exist and for all intents and purposes, appears to have never occurred.
Do felonies go away at 18? Maybe, depending on the circumstance, and some felonies can be expunged. Knowing how long does a felony stay on your record in your state can help, as well as knowing how your state conducts sealing juvenile records.
Expunged records are permanently deleted and are not viewable by the public at large or the courts. Note that many states use the term expungement to refer to the process of sealing or restricting criminal records.29
The difference between expungement and sealing of records is essentially who has access to them. Both options remove the record from public view, but some records can still be accessed by government agencies.
Expungement is not available in all states or all jurisdictions, and many states favor record sealing instead. Record sealing follows a similar process as expungement, but the results are less absolute. Sealing a criminal record makes the record invisible to the public eye. Therefore, a sealed record does not show up on a background check.
However, a sealed record can still be accessed by law enforcement, the court system, and in some cases even specific employers.28 States may have varying interpretations of record sealing, and many states use different terms for sealing, such as Michigan’s “set-asides” or Texas’ “non-disclosures.” And remember that what a state calls “expungement” may actually be record sealing rather than true expungement.
A University of Michigan study from 2019 found that more than 90% of eligible individuals do not apply for expungement or sealing when they are able to.45 Likely reasons for this include the cost of expungement, the complexity of the process, and the lack of information and knowledge about expungement rights. This article attempts to resolve some of that ambiguity in the expungement process and laws across different states.
How Long After a Conviction Can It Be Expunged?
Part of the question of how long an expungement take is considering how long an individual has to wait to seek an expungement. Expungements are not available in all cases, and whether a specific record is eligible to be expunged depends on two main factors: where the individual lives and what crime they committed.
As mentioned above, not all states and jurisdictions allow for expungement for convictions, and those that do have restrictions upon what crimes can be expunged. Finding out what misdemeanors and what felonies can be expunged in each state is a taxing process, and these are the same variables that impact how long an individual must wait to expunge a conviction.
The state appellate defender’s office will be the best route to begin the expungement process.
There is a lot of state-by-state variance in the length of time an individual must wait to file for expungement, but here are some factors which generally hold true. To be eligible for expungement:18
- The individual’s sentence must be complete.
- All restitution must be paid.
- No additional criminal activity can have occurred in the intervening time.
- There can be no pending charges against the individual.
- The individual cannot be a registered sex offender.
- In most cases, the individual cannot be a violent offender.
- A waiting period must be satisfied.
The waiting period also differs greatly depending on where an individual lives, but a couple of things hold true. Misdemeanors have a shorter waiting period than felonies (when available), and the waiting periods begin from the date that the sentence is successfully completed and all court orders have been satisfied (whichever occurs last).
In most states which allow for expungement of conviction records, the waiting period for misdemeanors is usually between three and seven years. In states which allow for felony expungement, there is typically a distinction between lesser (non-violent) felonies and more severe (violent) felonies. Lesser felonies are the class that is most likely to be eligible for expungement, and in states where this is available, the waiting period usually ranged from five to ten years.
A few states, such as Indiana, do allow for violent felony expungement when certain conditions are met. The waiting period is likely to be ten years or greater in these cases.18
What Is Automatic Expungement and When Does It Occur?
Building on the previous section, there are some situations when a conviction may be automatically expunged, depending upon state law. This means that once certain conditions are met, the expungement process is initiated automatically without any action required on the part of the individual.
In recent years, clean slate laws have been enacted in a number of states, making the expungement process easier.
A movement known as The Clean Slate Initiative which pushes for greater accessibility and ease of criminal record expungement has been gaining traction in the last few years across the United States.6 Prior to 2018, automatic expungement was implemented almost exclusively to relieve arrest records and non-conviction records. Now, there are a handful of states which have passed “Clean Slate” legislation to automatically clear some conviction records, and more states are working on new laws to this effect.
The following table displays the states with automatic expungement or sealing for convictions in effect or in the works. Many of these programs have been recently instituted and will require time to get the automated systems running.
Note that the same eligibility requirements outlined in the previous section apply in cases of automatic expungement as well. Thus, an individual with pending charges, unpaid restitution, unsatisfied court orders, etc. would not be eligible for automatic expungement.
|States With Automatic Record Clearance||Arrests and Non-Convictions||Misdemeanor||Felony||Law Effective Date|
*Sealing, not expungement
|1 to 3 years||1 year after judgment or sentence completion||Felonies not punishable by state prison incarceration may be eligible for automatic relief.||Effective: August 1, 2022|
|Colorado7||Immediate||Civil infractions: 4 years|
Misdemeanors: 7 years
Excludes violent crimes.
|Eligible felonies: 10 years|
Exclusions: Class 1, 2, and 3 felonies are ineligible.
|Passed: May 31, 2022|
Effective: July 20252
|Connecticut40||13 months||7 years||10 years|
Class A, B, and C Felonies
Family violence crimes
|Effective: January 1, 2023|
|Delaware8||Immediate||5 years||Felony drug possession: 5 years|
Other eligible felonies: 10 years
Excludes most violent crimes and fraud crimes
|Passed: November 8, 2021|
Effective: August 1, 2024
*set aside, not expungement
|60 days||7 years|
Serious misdemeanors(larceny, shoplifting, indecent exposure, negligent vehicular homicide).3
|Eligible non-assaultive felonies: 10 years|
Felony crimes with a sentence >10 years24
|Passed: April 11, 2021|
Effective: April 2023
Excludes violent crimes
|None||Passed: May 2, 2022|
*sealing, not expungement
|Within 30 days||Summary convictions: 5 years|
Most misdemeanors: 10 years
|None||Passed: June 28, 2018|
Effective: January 2020
|South Dakota||After diversion program||5 years||None||Passed: 2016|
|Utah42||Immediate||Class C – 5 years|
Class B – 6 years
Class A drug possession – 7 years
Effective: February 10, 2022
|Virginia36||Immediate||Eligible misdemeanors: 7 years||None||Effective Date: July 1, 2025|
What Is the Process To Expunge a Criminal Record? (How Long Does an Expungement Take?)
The process to expunge a criminal record can be a bit tricky as there are several steps involved, and procedures are not uniform from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Continue reading for an outline of the general steps involved.
The length of time an expungement can take depends on the court workload, but first, a number of forms will need to be processed.
Step 1: Determine Whether the State and Jurisdiction of the Conviction Have a Provision for Expungement
In states where expungement is not an option, record sealing is an excellent backup plan and follows a very similar process.
Step 2: Determine if the Crime in Question Is Eligible for Expungement
Rules vary by state on this point, so a bit of research, contact with the court, or attorney assistance will be required. For example, the state of Kentucky has its expungement information on the Department of Public Advocacy expungement page or in the Clean Slate Kentucky Expungement Guidebook.26
Step 3: Apply for a Certificate of Eligibility if Required
Some states require an application for a certificate of eligibility to be submitted prior to the petition. In Kentucky, this is required for convictions. The Kentucky Court of Justice page provides a registration link to complete an online application/request form (A $40 fee is required). Once the request is processed, the certification packet becomes available online for download. The certificate is good for 30 days.
Step 4: Fill Out the Paperwork for an Expungement Petition
There are often various expungement petition forms depending on the conviction, and these forms should be available on the court page for the state. In Kentucky, there are three different forms: the Misdemeanor Expungement Form, the Felony Expungement Form, and the Acquittal, Dismissal & Failure to Indict Form.46,47,48 An attorney, when desired, should be retained at this stage.
Step 5: File the Eligibility Certificate (When Applicable) and Expungement Petition With the Court in the County Where the Conviction Took Place
Some states may also require certified copies of the final disposition in the case in addition to the above documents.41 Differential fees may apply. The state of Kentucky charges a $100 filing fee per misdemeanor petition and a $50 filing fee for felony petitions (Note: An additional fee of $250 is charged when felony expungements are granted).26
In some states, expungement petitions will be automatically sent to the District Attorney and/or prosecutor. Other states may require the petitioner to deliver copies themselves.16
Step 6: Within 30 Days of Petition Filing, the Court Must Schedule a Hearing Date
The hearing date can be as soon as 30 days from filing but often is scheduled as far out as six months.
Step 7: Attend the Hearing to Receive the Judge’s Ruling
At the hearing, the judge will decide whether to grant or deny the petition. A granted expungement goes into effect immediately, assuming all fees have been paid.
How Long Does It Take for a Misdemeanor to Be Expunged?
Misdemeanors are more widely eligible for expungement in cases where expungement is permitted. Additionally, the waiting period to file for expungement is typically shorter for misdemeanors than more serious offenses and may range from 1 to 7 years. Aside from the few states where misdemeanors may be automatically expunged, the individual must file a petition for expungement.19
The time it takes to prepare and file the paperwork depends upon the individual, but once the petition has been filed, it must be sent to the district attorney, prosecutor, and court. Once the court receives all of the necessary information (petition, objections), they will schedule a hearing date. In many cases, the hearing date is required to be scheduled at least 30 days out from the date the court received the petition.
The length of time the hearing takes depends upon the complexity of the case and whether there are objections to the petition. Typically, an individual can expect a misdemeanor expungement to require around 2 months, give or take.
How Much Does It Cost To Get Expungements for Criminal Records?
The cost for expungement varies depending on where a person lives, the type of offense they are seeking to have expunged, and whether the individual has hired an attorney to assist them.
In some states, an individual can file for an expungement for $100, while other states charge several hundred dollars. For example, the total expungement fee in Kentucky is $300.
Requesting expungement certification in Kentucky is performed online.
There are often various fee grades depending upon the severity of the crime, with felony convictions costing more than misdemeanors and non-conviction expungements. In general, expungement fees range from $100 to $600, though many states allow indigent clients to apply for fee waivers.
Attorneys can really facilitate the expungement process because they know how to complete the paperwork, who to contact for updates, and how to work within the court system. The help of an attorney may be crucial for complex or more severe convictions. The downside is that attorneys are also very costly, and can take the price of expungements into the thousand dollar range or higher.
How Long Does an Expungement Take? (How Long Does It Take for Expungement?)
The length of an expungement process is variable, and to address the question of “How long does an expungement take?” an individual must be familiar with the process in their state. Assuming the conviction eligibility waiting period has been satisfied, the individual must identify and complete the proper paperwork. The paperwork varies by state and jurisdiction and may include an eligibility certificate, the proper expungement request form, and certified copies of the final disposition.
In Oklahoma, the expungement process can take about 4 weeks to process once all the paperwork has been submitted.
In some states, the eligibility certificate alone may take up to 60 days until receipt. Depending upon the court’s response rate, it can also take several weeks to receive the certified disposition.
Once the paperwork has been filed with the court, the court usually has 30 days to schedule a hearing, which is generally scheduled within one to six months. The hearing date should see the expungement case closed for better or worse, and an approved expungement becomes official.
With this timeline in mind, an expungement case can very well take up to 12 months from start to finish. However, expungements move quicker than this in many states and a general range of two to six months satisfies most requests.16,41
Anyone wondering “How long does an expungement take in my state?” can reference the chart below for time estimates and links to state expungement resources.
* Estimates are from the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations.49
^ General estimate used in absence of state-specific estimate.
How Long Does It Take for Your Record To Clear After Expungement? (How Long for Expungement To Take Effect)
Many people expect that their records will be instantly clear the moment an expungement is granted.
Unfortunately, this is simply not the case, and anyone wondering how long an expungement takes to be fully effective must consider the physical process of erasing or expunging criminal records.
It’s a good idea to visit your state’s legal library and court offices to ensure that you qualify for expungement.
Though the expungement officially goes into effect the moment it is granted, the order must reach each level of government to be acted upon. This typically begins at the county level where criminal records are removed from the county court system and sheriff’s office. This usually takes between one and two weeks.32
Once the county records are cleared, the order goes to the state, where the state’s Bureau of Investigations works to remove the expunged record from its system. This part of the process can take two to four months depending on the efficiency of the state.
After the state-level records have been removed, the expungement certification is sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) for federal-level records to be deleted.50 This last step usually takes about 30 days to complete.32 All in all, the process of removing expunged records can take up to six months.
How To Check if Your Record Has Been Expunged (How Long Does an Expungement Take?)
There is a bit of gray area surrounding when a record is actually expunged. While it is officially expunged the moment the court orders it, know that it can take a considerable amount of time for the record to be removed at each level of government. So how can someone find out if the record has been expunged? There are a few paths available.
The easiest and quickest path available is for an individual to check their criminal records using an online search tool, such as the search engine provided on this website, here. This is an expedient way to see the current status of an expungement case and find out whether criminal records have been removed from public databases.
This Maryland form petition for expungement is fairly similar to most states, which can be filled out and submitted online.
Another way to get this information is by conducting a criminal background check to see what records are viewable. There are different approaches to how to get a criminal background check, and this type of investigative report can be quickly requested through trusted online sites such as this one.
Alternatively, an individual can contact or visit the court which heard the case for follow-up. Searching state and local online criminal record databases may also yield some useful information.1
Do Expunged Records Show Up on Fingerprinting?
Records that are truly expunged (not sealed or set aside) should not show up on fingerprint background checks. When a record is expunged, all records are disposed of, including DNA and fingerprints. The record ceases to exist.
Sealed records, in contrast, can show up on a fingerprint background check as these records are still accessible to law enforcement and the court.44
However, it does take some time (up to 6 months in some cases) for records to be completely deleted after an expungement has been granted. The record erasure progresses from the local level to the state and finally to the federal level. A fingerprint background check conducted before there has been adequate time for complete removal of the records could show an expunged crime.44
If My Record Is Expunged, Can I Own a Gun?
While an expungement constitutes a complete erasure of a crime, it does not restore any rights which an individual lost when the crime was committed. Therefore, an individual who has lost their gun rights cannot buy, own, or use a gun whether their record has been expunged or not. To restore gun rights, an individual must obtain a pardon for their crime.
This is an entirely separate process from expungement. While expungement equals erasure in the eyes of the law, pardon equals forgiveness.27
An individual with an expunged record but no pardon can be charged with a crime for owning or even using a gun once those rights have been lost.
If My Record Is Expunged, Will I Pass a Background Check?
After a record is expunged and has been removed from criminal record databases, it should no longer appear on background checks, including those which investigate criminal records specifically.12 While an expunged criminal record should not create an obstacle during the background check process, there is no guarantee that an individual will “pass” a background check as background checks often look at many different areas such as employment verification or financial history which can also impact a person’s prospects.
As discussed in a previous section, there is a window of time between when an expungement is granted and when all records have been successfully removed from local, state, and federal databases. During this time, a criminal record background check may potentially show an expunged record. In theory, this should not prevent an individual from passing a background check because the entity requesting the check should allow for an explanation of the circumstances surrounding the record.
Anyone who feels that employment, housing, or other opportunities have been denied on the basis of an expunged criminal record should address the issue with the party that requested the background investigation and the consumer reporting agency (CRA) which conducted the check.
Do Job Applications Ask About Arrests?
There is no federal law that precludes questions about arrests on job applications or in job interviews,39 but some states have “Ban the Box” laws which prevent an employer from asking about criminal history on an initial job application or before a conditional offer has been made.14
Additionally, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Fair Credit Reporting Act protect individuals from discrimination in hiring,51,52 and employers must be careful not to weigh arrest records too heavily in job considerations as they may impact different groups of people unfairly.39
If My Record Is Expunged, Can I Answer “No” When Asked About Convictions on Job Applications?
An expunged record no longer exists in the eyes of the law, so an individual is entirely within their rights to answer “No” when asked about convictions on job applications. However, in cases where the individual is applying for work with the government or law enforcement, it would be wise to disclose all criminal history, even records that have been expunged. Many states use the term “expungement” to refer to record sealing or something that is not “true expungement,” and in this scenario, those records would still be accessible to relevant agencies.34
How To Remove Criminal Record From Background Check After Expungement
For individuals who are in the gray area of time between an expungement order and complete clearing of records, knowing how to fix your background check and get a criminal record removed is sometimes essential. Furthermore, though expunged records are automatically cleared from public databases, such as government resources, they are not automatically cleared from private databases that may be kept by online background check companies. In fact, these companies often update their systems at semi-annual or annual intervals, and sometimes even less often.17
This means that background checks which use one of these companies could render outdated, inaccurate information. For this reason, a person would like to know how to remove criminal record from background check.
There are two ways to address such potentialities: proactively or retroactively. The proactive approach to removing expunged records from a background check involves contacting the most commonly used background check companies to ensure that records have been updated. Conversely, an individual may elect to wait until an expunged record turns up on a background report to contact the reporting agency and address it. Background check companies are allotted 30 days from the point of contact to correct any errors in the consumer report.
There are also online services that an individual can utilize to have expunged records removed from private company databases, such as the non-profit Foundation for Continuing Justice.13
Expungement can be a tricky area to navigate for individuals seeking a fresh start from mistakes in their pasts. Many states have laws that provide for the expungement of some convictions, and other states allow for record sealing or set asides. This article explores the laws, procedures, and effects of expungement.
Anyone who has ever wondered “How long does an expungement take?” can rest assured in the knowledge that the benefits of a successful expungement are certain to offset the time and effort the process demands.
Frequently Asked Questions About How Long Does an Expungement Take