Expunge or Seal Your Record
Iowa Code Chapter 692 concerns "criminal history and intelligence data." If you want to make some of that information from your past less visible to friends, family, and potential employers. you may want to expunge your record.
Did you know that your court history can be seen online? Anyone can look up what you've been charged with, what small claims suits or other civil suits you've been involved in, whether you've been divorced in Iowa, etc. (Want to see what shows up for you? Search yourself here.)
We often get approached by people who have been convicted of (or who have pleaded to) assorted criminal infractions in the past and want those convictions off of their records. Sometimes, people who haven't been convicted of anything ask us to help them get charges that they weren't convicted of (because they were found not guilty or because the charges were dismissed) off their records. These people ask us to help them with "expungement" or with "sealing their records."
There are assorted reasons you might want something cleared from your record -- very often, people looking for new jobs don't want potential employers to see charges that have been brought against them, particularly if they feel that they were innocent or if they feel they've moved on and become a better or different person since the charges were brought. Sometimes, people are in a new relationship and would like to avoid their partners finding out about their pasts before they're ready to talk about it.
Unfortunately, most charges and convictions will stay on your record forever. There are only a few situations when you can clear your history, and even then, that history will still be visible to some people.
Who can see these records once they're expunged?
They can give copies of your criminal history or talk about what's in your criminal history with criminal or juvenile justice agencies. This helps to ensure that, for instance, you don't get more than two deferred judgments in your lifetime -- while your offense might be expunged from public records, the state still needs to be able to find out what you've been charged with in the past.
The Department can also disclose information about your criminal history that's more than 18 months after your arrest to you and to people or agencies that you sign a release for. This is often relevant to job seekers. While potential employers can't readily look up your expunged charges, some employers -- particularly in jobs that require licensing or security clearances -- will require you to sign a release allowing them to access this information in order to consider you for employment.
If you were charged with something that involved causing or trying to cause physical or mental injury to someone, records of acquittals, dismissals by reason of insanity, and records that you were found incompetent to stand trial won't be accessible to people except to the criminal and juvenile justice agencies (and their employees.)
What charges can be expunged?
- Public Intox / Consumption (First Offense) or Minor in Possession / Possession of Alcohol Under Legal Age
- Two years after a Public Intox (First) or Minor in Possession conviction, you can petition the Court to expunge the conviction (and any violation of a local ordinance that arose from the same occurrence) as long as you haven't had any other criminal convictions other than local traffic violations or simple misdemeanor violations of Iowa Code Section 321 -- for instance, simple misdemeanor failure to register your vehicle -- in that two year period.
- You should file a petition to get your Public Intox or Minor in Possession conviction expunged ASAP once the two years have elapsed. If the conviction is still on your record if/when you're charged with something new, the conviction can be used to enhance your new charges.
Is there any way to get other charges expunged?
You, a prosecutor, or a judge can file a motion to expunge your record of a case if:
- You were acquitted of all charges in the case or all of the charges were dismissed AND
- You've paid all your court costs, fees, restitution, and other financial obligations AND
- At least 180 days have passed since you were acquitted or your case was dismissed AND
- (The court can waive this 180 days requirement for "good cause," such as if you were the victim of identity theft or if you were only charged because of mistaken identity.)
- Your case wasn't just dismissed because they found you not guilty by reason of insanity AND
- You weren't found incompetent to stand trial
The court won't expunge your record until everyone in the case has time to object and say that they don't think that you've met all of those conditions for expungement.
If your case gets expunged like this, the record is confidential. It's not publicly accessible. The clerk of court can still give record of it to you or to someone who has access to the deferred judgement docket, though. The clerk can give this record upon request; there doesn't have to be a court order for it.
Deferred judgment is possibly the most common way to get something off your record.
If you get a Chapter 907.3 "deferred judgment" in your case, charges can be expunged from your record once you've completed probation and paid all of your court costs and obligations.
How do I get something expunged?
You have to file a motion or petition for expungement, unless you had a deferred judgment.
If you had a deferred judgment under Chapter 907.3, the charges that were in the indictment, information, or complaint that led to your deferred will be automatically expunged (as long as you've paid off your fines and court costs and whatever.) Any charges you had that were related to the charge that you got the deferred on but that weren't on the same indictment, information, or complaint can be expunged too, but that requires a court order. You or your attorney can petition the court to expunge these other charges.
What this means, practically, is that if your case involved multiple charges and the county attorney listed them all under one case number and then gave you a deferred on one charge and dismissed the rest, all of it gets expunged once you've successfully discharged from probation and paid all the stuff the court said you have to pay.
If you had a few charges that were all related (like if you were charged with possession and with paraphernalia) and the charges were given separate case numbers, the charge that you got the deferred on will go away once you've finished probation and paying fines and the other charges will get expunged once there's a court order. You or your attorney can ask the court for that court order.
Are there other ways to keep things off my record?
In a lot of ways, a deferred prosecution is nicer than a deferred judgment. In a deferred prosecution, your attorney and the county attorney agree that if you complete a particular action or set of actions, your case won't be prosecuted (it'll be dismissed.) There are times, such as when immigration issues are implicated, that you really need a guilty plea never to be on your record to begin with.
If your case is dismissed pursuant to a deferred prosecution agreement, the process for expunging dismissed cases will apply. A motion can be filed 180 days after dismissal.
This blog post is for informational purposes only and should not be relied on as legal advice. Consult with a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction to discuss expungement.