26 Nov 23

Expunging Federal Charges From Your Record

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Last Updated on: 5th December 2023, 02:11 pm

Getting Federal Charges Expunged From Your Record: Is It Possible?

Having a federal criminal record can make life real tough. It can be hard to get a job, rent an apartment, or even just feel good about yourself with that black mark following you everywhere. So is there anything you can do to wipe the slate clean and get a fresh start? This article will walk you through whether expunging federal charges is possible, and if so, how to go about it.

The short answer is yes, under certain circumstances, you can get federal charges removed from your record through expungement. But it ain’t easy, and you gotta meet some strict requirements.

First things first, what exactly is expungement?

Basically it’s the process of sealing or destroying your criminal record so your arrests and convictions don’t show up on background checks. It’s like your record gets wiped clean and you get to start over. Pretty sweet deal if you can get it!

Here’s the rub though – under federal law, expungement of federal crimes is only available in very limited cases. It’s not like with state charges, where most states have expungement laws that let you petition the court to seal records after a certain period of time. The feds don’t play like that.

The only way to get federal charges expunged is through a presidential pardon. Yup, you need the President himself to forgive you and order your records destroyed. Talk about a high bar to clear! Presidents don’t hand out pardons like candy on Halloween either – you gotta really prove you earned it and are rehabilitated.

Let’s break down how it works:

The Presidential Pardon Process

Only the President of the United States has the power under the Constitution to grant pardons and commutations for federal crimes. This includes pardoning prior convictions and destroying or sealing related criminal records.

To be eligible for a presidential pardon, you must have completed your sentence at least 5 years ago. The waiting period gives you time to demonstrate you’ve turned your life around. Exceptions can be made in extraordinary circumstances, but don’t count on it.

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Next, you’ll need to submit a formal pardon application to the Office of the Pardon Attorney at the Department of Justice. This involves providing a detailed account of your offense, your acceptance of responsibility, and why you merit a pardon.

The pardon attorney reviews applications and gives a recommendation for or against to the President. They’ll look at factors like your post-conviction conduct, character, community contributions, and the public welfare.

If the pardon attorney gives the green light, your application heads to the White House. The President ultimately decides who gets pardoned based on whatever criteria he deems important. With thousands of applications received each year, only a fraction end up with a presidential signature.

It’s a long shot, but if you do get pardoned, your conviction will be set aside, your civil rights restored, and your criminal records expunged. Past convictions can’t be held against you legally. It’s the closest thing to a fresh start the feds can give.

Recent Examples

President Trump granted a record number of pardons during his term (over 200!), including some high profile ones:

  • In 2020 he pardoned former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn on charges of lying to the FBI.
  • Also in 2020, Trump pardoned Roger Stone, his former advisor convicted of witness tampering and lying.
  • In 2018, Trump pardoned conservative author Dinesh D’Souza for campaign finance violations.

But regular folks can get pardoned too. Like Weldon Angelos, who got a 55-year sentence for selling weed. After serving 13 years, Angelos was pardoned by Trump in 2020 and released.

So while rare, it is possible for regular defendants to get clemency if you can convince the President you deserve mercy.

What About Commutations?

If a full pardon seems out of reach, another option is applying for a commutation – a reduction of your prison sentence. The process is similar to a pardon – you apply through the pardon attorney and get reviewed by the White House counsel.

The bar for a commutation is usually lower than a pardon. Presidents have granted commutations to hundreds of nonviolent drug offenders serving long mandatory minimums. This lets them out early while keeping the conviction intact.

In 2014 President Obama commuted sentences of over 1,700 drug offenders, most of whom had already served 10+ years. This allowed many to be released from prison years early.

While not an expungement, sentence commutations do provide relief from draconian sentences. The conviction remains, but at least you avoid more hard time.

Seeking a Governor’s Pardon for State Charges

Ok, say your criminal record is only state charges, no federal convictions. Is expungement possible then? The good news is many states do allow expungements for state crimes, usually after a period of 5-10 years.

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Each state has different laws on when and what charges can be expunged. Some, like California, have laws that let you apply to the court to dismiss a conviction after completing probation.

Other states require you to request a pardon from the Governor before you can seek expungement. The pardon wipes your record clean, after which you can petition to have court and police records sealed or destroyed.

For example, in Florida you can apply for a pardon from the Clemency Board after 5 years. If granted, you can then request court records be expunged so your criminal history is erased.

So for state charges, look up your state’s expungement and pardon laws to see if your offenses are eligible. This chart summarizes each state’s requirements. Consulting an attorney is a good idea too.

Federal Expungement Reform Efforts

While presidential pardons are rare, there is growing momentum around expanding federal expungement laws. A bipartisan bill called the Clean Slate Act was introduced in 2019.

Unfortunately it stalled, but it would’ve allowed for automatic sealing of federal conviction records after 7-10 years of good behavior. Advocates are continuing to push for federal clean slate policies that open up record-clearing for more people.

Until then, presidential pardon remains the only path to wiping your federal record clean. And that, my friends, is the skinny on getting federal charges expunged. Let’s hope reform happens soon so more people get a shot at redemption. We all make mistakes, but that shouldn’t mean a lifetime of punishment. Here’s to second chances!