Expungement is a legal process that allows persons charged or convicted of certain crimes to expunge – or erase – the history of their charge. Typically, after meeting certain specific requirements, a client may go before the judge that convicted him to seek this relief. If the judge allows the expungement, the clerk is usually directed to forward a copy of the order to Mississippi’s Criminal Information Center and the arresting law enforcement agency, directing each to remove any trace of the arrest or conviction. The clerk also sends a request to the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division, requesting that any federal criminal record relating to the state court charge be removed.
After this process is complete, the client usually wants to know whether he can pretend as if the arrest or conviction never happened. This question usually comes up when the client is completing an employment or academic application that requests information about the applicant’s criminal history. Unfortunately, there is never really a great answer to give the client. At the time you complete your application, you can never be completely certain that the civil servants at the various governmental agencies have fully implemented the Court’s order of expungement. This can put the client who relies in good faith on his expungement order in the awkward position of looking deceitful if a background check reveals that the expungement order has not been properly implemented by government bureaucracy.
One of the lessons history teaches from the Watergate scandal is that the cover-up is usually more damaging than the crime. While there are certainly benefits to a clean record, my advice to clients is usually to err on the side of full disclosure. To the person acting on your application, appearances are everything. It may be best to disclose a slightly embarrassing youthful indiscretion, rather than to appear deceitful and untrustworthy.