Overview of Federal Expungement Law

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UPDATED: Jun 29, 2022

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Written By: Jeffrey JohnsonUPDATED: Jun 29, 2022Fact Checked

Having a criminal record can be damaging. It can affect the type of jobs that you can hold, where you live, where you go to school and even where you travel. The laws of most states allow, in some circumstances, for some or all of a person’s criminal record to be “expunged” (physically destroyed) or “sealed” (hidden from public view). However, for federal crimes, expungement and sealing are largely NOT available as remedies. There are few exceptions.

A federal conviction can only be expunged if:

  1. a conviction is based on a law that is later found to be unconstitutional;
  2. a judge finds that the conviction was the result of government misconduct; or
  3. you were convicted of certain drug possession offenses when you were under the age of 21 and have no prior drug offenses.

If you qualify under this last exception, your conviction (a.k.a. your record of disposition) will be ordered sealed (non-disclosure order) and a notation of dismissal will be entered into the system. Then, if you were under age 21 at the time of at the time of the offense, your record may be expunged so that there is no trace of your arrest or any of the proceedings against you. If either remedy (non-disclosure or expungement) is granted, you may in effect deny having ever been arrested for the offense.

For more information, see the following topics:

Eligibility: discusses the availability of expungement in relation to drug arrests.

Process: discusses the federal application procedure and process.

Hiring an Attorney: discusses the reasons it makes sense to hire an attorney with knowledge and experience in expunging federal criminal records rather than representing yourself.

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
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