What You Need to Know About Expungements vs. Dismissals

Expungements and dismissals are sometimes confused when navigating criminal records. Here’s everything you need to know about Expungement vs. Dismissal.

An expungement occurs when an arrest record in a subsequent criminal case no longer exists. A dismissal is the court’s decision to dismiss a lawsuit without holding the defendant liable. The difference between expungement and dismissal is the case file and arrest records remain public after a dismissal.

What does it mean to expunge my record?

An expungement is a process of erasing the history of an arrest and the following criminal case and any public access to this information. Officially expunged criminal records are labeled as “set aside and dismissed.” Non-expunged records are allocated as “convicted.” Those who have had their records expunged can tell potential employers that they have never been convicted. Expunged records will not appear for basic background checks on a criminal history search, including background checks for jobs, residences, or licensing. A background check will also not reveal any sealed records.

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Some employment and licenses require an individual to report any criminal convictions, even those dismissed. In-depth background checks may also reveal if one has records sealed or removed. This process is accurate for government checks, professional licenses, or law enforcement positions. Furthermore, expunged records do not remain valid when dealing with immigration and naturalization services, an application for public office, any state or local licensing agency, and contracts with the state lottery. In these specific instances, citizens with expunged records are expected to disclose their convictions.

On the federal level, when a sentence remains overturned, the record is sealed, which means it will still exist but will not be public. It will not appear on criminal records. This means there will be no public evidence of the conviction. Those who are expunged will also earn back any rights lost due to the sentence.

What is the meaning of a criminal dismissal?

The process of having criminal charges withdrawn or dismissed from the court is known as dismissal. Dismissal can occur at any point between arrest and conviction. Cases can be rejected for a variety of reasons. The court may dismiss a case in response to a defendant’s petition to dismiss or on its initiative. Judges can dismiss instances independently, but most dismissals result from a request filed by the defendant’s attorney.

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A defense attorney will file a request to dismiss the charges when under arrest. They can file this move during the arraignment, preliminary hearings, or trial. Among the possible grounds for dismissal are:

  • Inadequate jurisdictionInadequate probable cause to arrest
  • Illegal search or seizure
  • The statute of limitations has expired
  • Inconsistencies in the criminal complaint
  • Inadequate evidence

In some circumstances, selective charges will be dropped, while the prosecution may pursue others. For example, as part of a plea bargain, the prosecution may offer to drop one charge in exchange for a guilty plea on the other counts. Prosecutors frequently use this tactic to get a plea deal by reducing some more severe bills to induce the defendant to plead guilty.

FAQs About Expungement vs. Dismissal

Is a dismissal part of my criminal record?

After charges remain dismissed, one may be eligible to have their record sealed. Most background checks will no longer disclose the arrest or criminal charges if the request is granted. Not all charges, however, may be eligible for expungement.

Does the expungement process differ by state?

Yes, the procedure for expungement following dismissal varies by state. There may be a waiting period before one may petition to have the arrest or dropped charges deleted entirely.

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