If you are arrested and charged with a crime in Alabama, you may be afraid of the long term impact the charge will have on your life.
You may not be able to apply for an occupational license and generally find it difficult to get steady employment. Like most other states, Alabama has a law that allows people to eliminate certain criminal arrests and charges from their permanent record through a process known as expungement.
Here are the laws governing criminal expungement in Alabama, who qualifies, and what to do if you think you are eligible.
What is Expungement?
Expungement is the legal process through which a person can remove a criminal arrest, charge and prosecution from their permanent Alabama criminal record.
Once approved by a judge, the criminal proceedings are treated as if they never happened. If they are asked about the charge they have no legal duty to disclose that the incident ever happened, with the exception of a few rare circumstances.
Any court, clerk, or state agency is required to respond that any record does not exist if they are asked, except in limited circumstances.
The person does, however, must still disclose the record to government regulatory agencies, licensing agencies, utility agents and affiliates, and banks and other financial institutions.
What Types of Cases Qualify for Expungement?
It is important to note that criminal convictions are NOT eligible for expungement. Under current Alabama law, only these cases are eligible:
- Acquittal after a trial
- Case no-billed by a Grand Jury (not enough evidence for indictment)
- Dismissal after completion of drug court or other diversion program
- Charges are dismissed (with or without prejudice)
Legally, a case that is dismissed without prejudice may be refiled at a later date, because no double jeopardy has attached.
Because of this, the law requires that the case was dismissed at least two years prior to filing for expungement, that the case has not been refiled, and that the person has not been convicted of any other crime (excluding minor traffic violations) in the past two years.
For charges dismissed WITH prejudice for a felony, the person must wait 90 days before filing.
What Crimes Qualify for Expungement?
In Alabama, a person can file for expungement to remove non-violent felonies, misdemeanors, violations, traffic violations, or municipal ordinance violations from their record.
Prior to 2017, no violent felony charges could be expunged, but an amendment has changed this. Some violent felonies may be eligible for expungement now if the person was found “not guilty” at a bench or jury trial.
How Do I Start the Expungement Process?
An expungement does not happen automatically, so being proactive is the key. Seek the advice of a criminal defense attorney who has experience with the expungement process, and they can guide you through the process.
First, you and your attorney will fill out and file a petition for expungement in the proper court. It doesn’t matter in what court specifically your original case was based (municipal, traffic court, etc.), all expungements must be approved by a judge in the circuit criminal court where the original case was heard.
Having an attorney’s expertise on this can help you avoid paying unnecessary fees by having to file and refile your petition in the right court.
Will I Need to Go to Court?
Maybe. After your petition is filed, the prosecutor’s office has a certain number of days to file an objection to the expungement. If they do, you may need to schedule a hearing with a judge.
They will ask both sides questions about the circumstances surrounding your case, and then issue a ruling based on the expungement factors set forth by Alabama law.
What are the Expungement Factors in Alabama?
From Alabama Code § 15-27-5:
- Nature and seriousness of the offense committed
- Circumstances under which the offense occurred
- Date of the offense
- Age of the person when the offense was committed
- Whether the offense was an isolated or repeated incident
- Other conditions which may have contributed to the offense (economic hardship, personal stressors, etc.)
- An available probation or parole record, report, or recommendation
- Whether the offense was dismissed or nolle prossed as part of a negotiated plea agreement and the petitioner plead guilty to another related or lesser offense
- Evidence of rehabilitation, including good conduct in prison or jail, in the community, counseling or psychiatric treatment received, acquisition of additional academic or vocational schooling, successful business or employment history, and the recommendation of his or her supervisors or other persons in the community.
- Any other matter the court deems relevant, which may include, but is not limited to, a prior expungement of the petitioner’s record
The court is not limited strictly to the listed factors above, and can consider anything they deem relevant that could positively or negatively affect whether expungement is the right choice.
This is why having an attorney to assist you is vital, not just in drawing up the petition but also bringing the court’s attention to other positive evidence and information that could encourage your expungement being approved.
Talk to a Birmingham Attorney About Expungement Today
Are you looking to move past an arrest or criminal charge that is negatively affecting your career or another aspect of your life?
An expungement can help give you a clean slate and allow you to move forward without anxiety. That is why you need to speak with a qualified criminal defense attorney as soon as possible about your case.
At Dagney Johnson Law Group, we are a small family firm that has represented Alabamians for over 40 years. Located in Birmingham, we want our clients to feel comfortable and cared for throughout the legal process.
The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.