The Gift of Discretion: What’s the Difference Between Expungement and Pardon?


Throughout your life, there are many occasions when a background check must be passed in order to move forward with something you really want. It is often necessary to get that dream job, get approved for a home lease or a loan, or even qualify for college or military admission. But that background check will show a criminal history, too.

Your criminal history can keep you from pursuing the life you would like to live instead of the one in your past. But a criminal conviction doesn’t have to be forever – it can be expunged or pardoned if you have paid your debt for your crime and want to clear your record.

Expunged or Pardoned?

There are two ways that you can seal or erase a criminal record: expunging and pardoning. Each one is different and is used for distinct purposes.

An expungement seals a court record after a sentence has been deferred. This will even change the wording of the court’s final disposition to say that you, as the defendant, pleaded not guilty and the case was officially dismissed.

There is a difference between “sealed” records and “expunged” records. Sealed records cannot be obtained unless state law allows them to be opened for a specific cause. This may happen if the person is under investigation for a crime, for example.

The highest level of expungement will also seal the court record and the arrest record that is on file with your state’s investigative bureau. With this type of expungement, the crime is basically erased. However, obtaining it can be very difficult depending on your crime. You will have to meet very specific criteria to be eligible for an expungement.

Pardons, however, are easier to obtain. A pardon simply says that you are officially recognized from the state’s governor as someone who has turned your life around since your crime. It does not in any way change the criminal record, as an expungement does.

Your criminal conviction will still show up on the background check. It will also show that you were pardoned upon recommendation from the official state Pardon and Parole Board, though, which helps to ease the sting somewhat.

If you are able to receive a pardon from your state’s governor, it can help put you on the path to obtaining an expungement as well. In certain states, someone who was convicted of a crime at an age younger than 18 or who was convicted of a felony that did not have violent connections can make them eligible for a pardon, and then potentially a record expungement.

Know Your Rights: Can You Clear Your Name?

Just because you were convicted of a crime does not mean you should be treated like a criminal for the rest of your life. When you are trying to turn your situation around by registering for a better job, a home, or even school, your past should not dictate your future.

If you think you may be eligible for a pardon or expungement, contact an experienced expungement lawyer in your state for eligibilty and procedure information. You may be able to turn your life around easier than you imagined possible.