A criminal record can haunt you for a long time -- even if it was a one-time mistake or you've since turned your life around. Arrest records, criminal charges, and convictions can show up on all kinds of background checks. They can impair your ability to get a job, find housing, pursue higher education and get a professional license.
In limited situations, however, the law provides an opportunity to erase your criminal records. Expungement in Tennessee means the records will be permanently deleted - not just sealed, as in some states. It will be as though the arrest, charge or conviction never happened.
However, expungement isn't automatic, and not everyone qualifies.
Juvenile court proceedings are confidential, which means they aren't accessible to the public in the same way as adult offenses. Nonetheless, you can still pursue expungement of juvenile court records - including fingerprints and photographs - provided you meet certain criteria, including:
- You're at least 18 years old.
- It's been at least a year since any juvenile adjudication.
- You haven't since been convicted of any other offenses.
- You've shown good behavior.
Those under age 21 may apply for expungement of records relating to underage consumption or possession of alcohol as soon as six months after the violation.
Records without a conviction
Arrest records and criminal charges can still cause headaches for you, even if you were never convicted.
The law allows expungement of records when:
- The charges were dismissed.
- You were found not guilty.
- An arrest didn't result in charges.
- Your conviction was reversed on appeal (resulting in dismissal).
- The prosecution didn't pursue the charges (resulting in an order of nolle prosequi).
- A grand jury returned a "no true bill" finding.
- An order for protection against you was denied.
- The case was retired, and you successfully request dismissal.
Generally, there are no court fees associated with pursuing an expungement in these cases. However, if your case was dismissed "with costs," you must ensure that those costs are paid or waived.
Certain misdemeanors and Class E felonies may also be eligible for expungement - even if you were convicted. These may include:
- Certain theft and property offenses
- Evading arrest
- Accessory after the fact
- Certain drug offenses
The law specifically excludes some types of convictions, so it's important to check with a lawyer on whether your offense qualifies.
Additionally, you must show that:
- You have no other criminal convictions on your record.
- At least 5 years have passed since your sentence was completed (including any period of probation).
- You paid all fines, restitution, and court fees.
- You met all the conditions of release (whether supervised or unsupervised).
- You have been free from substance abuse for at least a year (if required by the conditions of your sentence).
You must also pay a hefty fee.
Because these cases tend to be more complicated, it's critical to work with an attorney to maximize your chances of success.