One of the questions I get asked most frequently in my criminal defense area of practice is how a client can get a criminal charge expunged from their record. The reasons for wanting a record removed are many. Some individuals don’t think they’ll be able to get the job they want with a criminal record, while others would prefer a landlord or spouse never finds out about their past. The state of Iowa’s policy is to keep most criminal records public, so it makes sense that individuals who wish to keep them private would look into getting them expunged.

However, under Iowa law, getting a criminal record expunged is no easy matter. Most criminal records can never be removed. A law was passed in January of 2016, though, that a case involving an acquittal or dismissal can be expunged from the public record. It may remain on file, though, and be available to law enforcement, prosecutors, and the court should they need to access it. There are some conditions that need to be met before the record is expunged, and your attorney can relay these to you if they apply.

If your case did not result in a dismissal or acquittal, there are only two other instances where a record can be sealed. These are if the outcome of a case is a ‘deferred judgment’ rather than a conviction and the person completes the terms of the deferment or if the conviction is for public intoxication, consumption or underage possession of alcohol and the person has not had any new convictions for at least two years afterward.

In all other cases, your adult criminal record will remain public and available to view online on the court docket. There is no expiration date and it does not matter if your conviction was a felony or a misdemeanor. Though a governor’s pardon is possible in rare cases, this does not remove the record and is not equal to an expungement.

Even if you are successful in getting your criminal record expunged, keep in mind that it is not erased. It’s simply removed from public record. Should a new criminal charge occur, the expunged record can still be referenced and result in a higher level of crime to be charged, more supervision during and after the trial and a tougher sentence if a conviction occurs.

Criminal records can greatly affect an individual’s life. They can make it difficult to get jobs, secure loans, go to college, or find suitable places to live. It’s important to realize that, though it may seem unfair, many people will discriminate against you for having a criminal record, even if it occurred years ago and you’ve not had any trouble with the law since. The takeaway from this post is that you should thoroughly consult with your attorney before pleading guilty to any crime. If you do have a criminal record and it affects your ability to secure employment, education, or a residence, get this in writing and discuss it with your attorney. Though expungement probably will not be the answer to your problem, your attorney may be able to help in other ways.