If my criminal record was expunged, can I say I have no convictions?

Question: I had some minor trouble with the law when I was a teenager. Luckily, I was able to turn things around and go to college. I'm graduating next year, and I'm wondering whether I should try to get my juvenile record expunged. A friend of mine did this, and he said it was a pretty easy process. But is there any point? If I'm looking for a job and the application asks whether I have ever been convicted or have a criminal record, I'll still have to tell the truth. So why should I go to the trouble (and expense) of expunging my record?

Answer: Actually, it makes a lot of sense to have your juvenile record expunged, if you can. Here's why: In most states, once your record is expunged, you can act as if those convictions never happened. The record is sealed and won't be released in response to, for example, a criminal background check by a prospective employer. And, the law allows you to say you do not have a criminal record, if that record has been expunged.

Not every offense is eligible for expungement. In most states, however, if your offenses were minor, the crimes took place when you were a juvenile, and you have no subsequent adult convictions, you will be able to expunge your records by filing a petition asking the court to seal your record. (You may also have to pay a fee.)

Once you start your job search, you'll be able to check the "no" box on applications that ask if you have a criminal record or if you have ever been convicted of a crime. This is perfectly legal: In fact, it's the whole purpose of allowing someone to expunge a record. If your record is sealed, a court has determined that you are entitled to a fresh start.

This right isn't absolute, however. For example, if you apply for a job in law enforcement, the public employer may be able to see your record. Similarly, if you are convicted of a later crime, your earlier convictions may be taken into account when you are sentenced. But for most civil purposes, including dealing with employers and landlords, you can deny that you have a criminal record once that record is expunged.

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