What is Expungement: Expungement of an arrest record means that officially it ceases to exist. Thus, any inquiry made to the governmental entity in question about prior arrests will not turn up the arrest in question.
Importance of Seeking Expungement: Even if the charges subsequently were dropped, even if they were a youthful indiscretion, and even if you have lived an exemplary, unblemished life since, an arrest can present an insuperable bar to subsequent employment. This is especially true in the financial services industry, which already was hypersensitive about hiring people with problematic past associations, but now is under increased regulatory and political pressure to avoid hiring people whose integrity may be questioned.
Background Searches: With the rise of computerized records and the Internet, background searches are getting progressively faster, cheaper and more comprehensive. Accordingly, it is becoming increasingly more difficult, if not impossible, to hide embarrassing episodes from your past. As recently as two decades ago, denying an arrest record on an employment questionnaire often was a risk worth taking. Today, the chances of successfully hiding an arrest record are diminishing rapidly.
Expungement Backlogs: There is a mounting backlog of requests for official expungement of past criminal records. In its November 11, 2009 issue, The Wall Street Journal reports that, in many states, a new request for expungement may take several years to be processed.
Caveats With Expungements: There are several caveats related to expungements of past arrests and criminal records:
- Legal expungement does not mean that old newspaper articles or mentions on the Internet about an arrest will cease to exist.
- Private background-checking companies are under no obligation to erase references to a subsequently officially-expunged arrest in their own databases.
For these reasons, past arrest records can never be put behind you completely.