In the 21st century, having a criminal conviction for anything can have long-lasting and far reaching negative consequences. Job opportunities may be lost, housing applications denied, and even custody and/or visitation with minor children could be altered because of a criminal conviction. Moreover, a criminal conviction is often the result of an otherwise law abiding citizen who had a momentary lapse in judgment instead of a career criminal racking up yet another conviction. If you fall into the former category, and your conviction is having an adverse effect on your life, there may be hope. With the help of a Tennessee criminal defense lawyer, you may be able to get your conviction expunged.
What Does It Mean When a Conviction Is Expunged?
A criminal conviction will remain on your record for life unless legally removed. This means that anyone who requests a background check on you can see the conviction, including prospective employers, schools, and landlords. When you successfully petition to have a conviction expunged, it is removed from the public record. It does not mean that the record of the conviction is completely destroyed; however, the general public cannot access the record and it will no longer appear on a background check. Courts, law enforcement officials, and certain government agencies, however, may still be able to access the record of the conviction.
What Convictions Are Eligible for Expungement in Tennessee?
A new law was passed in 2012 that now allows certain non-violent, non-DUI, and non-sexual crimes to be expunged. Convictions eligible for expungement include most misdemeanors and some less serious Class E felonies, such as forgery, theft, and vandalism. The list of misdemeanors eligible for expungement is long. Examples of the many common convictions eligible include public intoxication, possession of marijuana, shoplifting, DWI (driving while impaired – not the same as DUI or driving under the influence) and theft.
What Other Requirements Must Be Met?
In addition to the conviction itself being on the list of eligible offenses, there are a few other requirements that must be met for your conviction to be eligible for expungement, including:
- You cannot have any other convictions
- You must have successfully completed all terms of your sentence, including payment of all court fees, fines, and costs
- At least five years must have passed since completion of your sentence
If My Conviction Qualifies, Will It Automatically Be Expunged?
No. The law that allows convictions to be expunged is not a “shall expunge” law, meaning the court retains discretion to approve or deny a petition. The conviction must first be among the list of eligible convictions; however, the court makes the final decision. Specifically, the law states “In making a decision on the petition, the court shall consider all evidence and weigh the interests of the petitioner against the best interest of justice and public safety.”
What Is the Process to Have a Conviction Expunged?
A petition must be filed with the appropriate court. A hearing will then be set at which time both your attorney and the state’s attorney may present evidence and argument to the court. The judge will listen to both sides and make a decision.
Do I Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer to Get My Conviction Expunged?
You are not required to hire an attorney to represent you; however, given the importance of the outcome, and the complexity of the law, it is a wise idea to retain an experienced Tennessee criminal defense attorney to assist you. If you proceed pro se (without an attorney) and your petition is denied, you must wait two years to try again. Another reason to hire an attorney is that your attorney may be able to get the state’s attorney to agree ahead of time to the petition, or to agree not to directly object at the hearing. Either an outright, or tacit, agreement will go a long way toward convincing the judge to approve the petition.
Contact a Tennessee Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you have a criminal conviction on your record that you believe might be eligible for expungement, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced Tennessee criminal defense attorney immediately to discuss the possibility of getting that conviction expunged. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your appointment.