In the common law legal system in the United States, an expungement process refers to a type of lawsuit in which a first time offender seeks the records attached to the arrest be sealed, thereby making the documents unavailable through the state or Federal repositories.
If expungement is granted, the records are said to be “expunged” meaning erased from public viewing. As a result, the process of erasing by which the record for a criminal conviction is destroyed or sealed from public databases is referred to as the expungement process.
When an expungement is granted, the individual in question (the person whose record is expunged) may, for the majority of instances, treat the underlying event as it never took place. This is held in contrast to a pardon, where the underlying event, although excused, still is viewed as having occurred. A pardon constitutes forgiveness while an expungement constitutes an annulment of sorts.
In the United States, an expungement may only be granted and delivered by a judge. This again is held separate from a pardon, where only a governor or the President of the United Statse can make such a ruling.
Each jurisdiction within the United States possesses different sentiments towards the admissibility of expungements. In general, the majority of states view an expungement as the removal of a criminal record or report from general review. In many other jurisdictions, however, the records may not completely disappear from public observation or respiratory and may still be available to law enforcement, to sentencing judges on subsequent offenses, and to corrections facilities.