Expunging Criminal Records: What Does It Mean and How Is It Done

Having an arrest or conviction on your public record can make living a normal life challenging. A criminal history can make it difficult for you to find a job or get an apartment. It can cause problems in your personal relationships. The list goes on and on. Thankfully, expunging criminal records is possible in most states.

What does it mean to expunge criminal records? It means sealing those records so that they cannot be accessed by anyone at any time. Expunging essentially wipes the slate clean as though you were never arrested, prosecuted, or convicted.

The expungement process is different from state to state. To give you a basic idea of how this works, this post will focus on Utah. Citizens in the state can petition to have a variety of criminal records expunged, including:

  • arrest records
  • investigation records
  • detention records
  • convictions (including verdicts and guilty findings after trials and pleas).

Salt Lake City criminal defense attorney Anita Dickinson says that not all records can be expunged. For example, capital felonies, felony DUI, and registrable sex offenses are not eligible for expungement. Regarding those records that can be expunged, Utah citizens must follow a 4-step process. Dickinson recommends not attempting expungement without the assistance of an experienced criminal attorney.

Step #1 – Apply for a Certificate

The first step in Utah is to apply for a certificate of eligibility from the Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification (BCI). It is the BCI’s responsibility to determine if the records in question qualify for expungement. As long as all requirements are met – including all necessary fees paid – a certificate will be issued. Filers should note that it can take several months to receive a certificate.

Step #2 – File with the Court

A certificate of eligibility is valid for only 90 days. So as soon as it is received, the petitioner should be prepared to file paperwork with the court that handled the original case. The certificate must be filed along with a number of other documents. These include a cover sheet, a petition to expunge records, and an order on petition to expunge records.

Step #3 – Serve the Prosecutor

Next, the petitioner needs to serve the prosecutor. What does that mean? The same prosecutor’s office that handled the original case must be served with papers indicating that a petition to expunge has been filed. The prosecutor’s office must be given a copy of that petition along with a copy of the certificate of eligibility and original copies of other applicable documents.

Step #4 – Wait on the Prosecutor in Court

The petitioner’s legal responsibilities end once the prosecutor is properly served. All that remains is waiting on the decision. Prosecutors have four options:

  • Sign a consent of waiver of hearing
  • File an objection on its own behalf or that of a victim
  • Sign an acceptance of service
  • Do nothing.

Utah courts are prohibited from acting until the prosecutor’s office has been given sufficient time to respond. If the prosecutor chooses any option but the second, the petitioner’s attorney may file additional documents to move the process along. A court may schedule a hearing or simply grant the petitioner’s request.

If the prosecutor chooses to file an objection, then it must be filed within 35 days. The court will then automatically schedule a hearing which the petitioner should attend.

From there, it is up to the court to render a decision. A favorable decision means that all records will be sealed, and the arrest, investigation, or conviction will be as though it never happened.

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