To expunge means to destroy, obliterate, or strike out records or information in files, computers, and other depositories. A well-known example of this is the expungement of criminal records. The majority of states allow people to have their criminal records expunged, depending on the laws within the jurisdiction. Some states completely remove the arrest record from all databases, so a person can deny they have ever been arrested for the crime while other states will still maintain public records of the arrest even after it has been expunged.
Most states will put restrictions on which crimes can be expunged from someone’s record. The most common crimes that can’t be expunged are murder, rape, terrorism, capital offenses, and assault with a deadly weapon that resulted in a serious injury. Criminal records that are more likely to be expunged include juvenile charges, dropped and dismissed charges, and low-level misdemeanors.
The process of getting an expungement usually begins with the person filing a petition with the court that handled their case and paying a fee. Some jurisdictions will automatically expunge a criminal record once a juvenile reaches a certain age.
[Last updated in July of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]