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An accused in a criminal proceeding is entitled to have his or her criminal record expunged upon the favorable disposition of the charges in the accused’s favor. This process is referred to as an expungement.  Expungements are available, under appropriate circumstances, for felony and misdemeanor cases.

A favorable disposition may include an acquittal, a dismissal, nolle prosequi, and pretrial diversion. The expungement removes from the public record the details concerning the criminal proceedings. However, an expungement does not remove facts concerning the criminal proceedings that are maintained in the confidential law enforcement administrative records.

Once an expungement has been accomplished, the individual has the statutory right, with a few exceptions, to deny that they have been arrested, charged with, placed on probation or even convicted of the crime(s) that was the subject matter of the underlying criminal proceeding. An expungement restores a person to position that he occupied prior to an arrest or charge. Consequently, individuals whose records have been expunged may decline to reveal or acknowledge existence of the arrest, the charge or the proceedings. Tennessee Code Annotated § 40-32-101, once again, subject to a few exceptions.

It is not uncommon for an individual to call wanting to have a prior conviction expunged for a variety of reasons. These reasons often involve employment matters and the desire to obtain a civilian handgun permit. As noted above, an expungement is only available under the limited circumstances where the criminal proceedings were terminated in their favor and/or if the individual successfully completed a program of pretrial diversion.

The expungement process is typically a minor proceeding. For example, in Davidson County’s General Sessions courts, the expungement is accomplished on a standardized form available from the clerk’s office. A trial court is required to enter an order of expungement if the individual’s circumstances satisfy the statutory requirements. A trial court has no discretion over the decision whether to expunge public records for charges resulting in dismissal or acquittal. Tennessee Code Annotated § 40-32-101.

If an individual plead guilty (other than through diversion) or was found guilty of a crime, the criminal record generally cannot be expunged. An example of an exception to this rule is juvenile pleas and convictions.  Even in instances where an expungement is not available, you may however still benefit from a restoration of rights proceeding which is addressed elsewhere in these materials.

A pardon is not an expungement. A pardon does not remove the circumstances of the arrest or criminal proceedings from the public record. An individual who obtains an executive pardon had no statutory right to have his criminal record expunged. State v. Blanchard, 100 S.W.3d 226 (2002)

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Last Update: 07/13/2010