How long does a felony stay on your record?

How long does a felony typically stay on your record? Are there things that you can do to decrease this amount of time? Who ultimately decides when it is removed?

If you research the topic "criminal records", you will soon notice that laws vary from state to state regarding how long a conviction will stay on your record. Further, crime categories between misdemeanors and felonies differ depending on the jurisdiction where the offense was committed. The type of crime, whether assault, property damage, possession, robbery, larceny, rape, murder or a crime involving a weapon, et cetera, and the severity of the act determine its misdemeanor or felony status.

There is a difference between being charged, arrested and convicted and each can remain on your record for a different length of time. Charges, arrests, court dates, misdemeanor and felony convictions will stay on your record until they are expunged. In order to have a record expunged (removed from public record) requires a petition to the state and/or jurisdiction in which the crime was prosecuted.

Criminal records are considered public record and kept at various governmental levels: local (city or county), state and federal. Additionally, law enforcement agencies share their criminal record databases with other related law enforcement agencies. Although it is public record, not just anyone can request to see your criminal record. Persons are allowed to view your record if you have given consent, for example to a potential employer, and of course, each person may request to see their own record. Additionally, records of deceased persons are open to the public.

Expunging Records
In order to expunge a criminal record, the convicted individual must petition the state criminal system to seal or destroy records of their arrest, conviction, detention or time served. Each state has different laws and a slightly different process for expunging criminal records. Misdemeanors and petty offenses are relatively easy to get expunged from one's records.

Requirements and factors for expunging records include: time period between incident and expungement request, no current criminal investigations or incidents, number of priors, no convictions during waiting period, completed probation from conviction completed free of new criminal incidents, and completed terms of the sentence and/or served time. All of these requirements factor into the acceptance or denial of an expungement petition. Basically, the court system wants you the petitioner to demonstrate that they are fully rehabilitated. Depending on the type of felony and from which state the crime was prosecuted, many seek the help of a lawyer to take care of the formal paperwork and proceedings.

If you are acquitted of your charges, or win in appeals court, then of course, your record can easily be expunged. When a record is "sealed" or expunged, the charges, court files, arrest, detention and initial conviction (before winning an appeal) will be erased from public record. However, a guilty or no contest plea will stay on your record, and if you serve time, then it that will certainly be on your record. In some states, like Florida, a guilty plea or conviction cannot be expunged from public record.

After records are expunged, they will not be available in the public record at the local or state level. Criminal records continue to exist only at the federal level and can be accessed by federal agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). For example, years after you have served your time or paid your debt to society, you want to apply for a government job that requires security clearance. The governmental agency will do a background search and they will be able to find any prior arrests, convictions, court dates/cases and time served by using the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), which is maintained by the FBI.

Rights that are in Jeopardy after Serving Time

  • Voting privileges (14 states permanently revoke the right to vote to ex-convicts)
  • 25 states restrict the right to hold public office
  • Security clearances for certain professions (teaching, working with children, security)
  • Cannot obtain a passport or a visa for entry into certain countries
  • Convicts are pulled into police line-ups as a potential suspect
  • Cannot legally obtain firearms
  • Loss of federal financial aid money for college in drug related convictions
  • Parenting rights can be taken away (custody, visiting rights)

Ways of handling a permanent record
Jail time for a felony can range from months to a lifetime sentence. In many cases, a record cannot be sealed or expunged, and the felony charge remains on your record forever. Depending upon what type of job you are seeking after serving time, it often works to your advantage to be honest with a potential employer about a past criminal record. If an employer finds out you have lied, he/she will often immediately let you go. Nowadays, it is quite easy and customary for a potential employer to perform a background search and locate a criminal history if it exists. That doesn't mean that ex-offenders are shut out completely of quality professions. Many jobs in outreach services value the perspectives of ex-offenders. For example, in the fields of youth violence prevention, inner city youth mentoring, gang outreach and advisory services. However, there are those employers who look to employ ex-convicts and take advantage of their compromised social status by paying lower wages, not paying over-time, not offering health insurance and dismissing their employees without notice. Be careful! Be informed!

Also see How long does a misdemeanor stay on your record