How to Expunge a Criminal Record in Wisconsin

People often make bad choices that can result in arrest records and, in some instances, convictions in the court of law. Many individuals live in fear of their arrest records that are years or even decades old. Having an criminal arrest record can prevent them from getting a job because red flags come up when an employer performs a pre-employment background screening.

The Wisconsin expungement process, or record sealing, can help remove previous transgressions from public view. Expungement allows individuals to petition a judge to order that a previous conviction or arrest record is sealed or erased. Ultimately, when an employer (or a nosey neighbor) performs a background check using the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access website, the previous offense does not show up.

Not everyone is eligible to have his or her previous convictions or arrests expunged. There are certain criteria that each case must meet for a Wisconsin court to consider expungement. First, a felony conviction (a criminal conviction greater than a misdemeanor) is not eligible for expungement. It’s important to note that if an individual is initially charged with a felony, but that charge is later amended to a misdemeanor count through a plea bargain or agreement with the district attorney, the now misdemeanor count may be eligible for expungement. It only matters what crime an individual was convicted of, not what they were initially charged with. Another condition of qualification is that the individual who was convicted of the misdemeanor must have served the sentence, including terms of probation and assessed fines. The person petitioning the court also cannot have any subsequent criminal offenses (either misdemeanor of felony). Last, the expungement must not be detrimental to society, and the petitioner must demonstrate that he or she will benefit from having their criminal conviction erased.

If all those criteria are met, and you decide to move forward with a request for expungement, there are a number of different ways in which the process can play out. The first consideration is whether the judge initially ruled that the record could be expunged upon satisfaction of the sentencing terms. If so, there are still no guarantees that the record will successfully be erased. Someone who was under the age of 21 must have committed the crime and all terms of the original sentence must have been met. If those conditions are met; as well as previous stipulations that state that no subsequent crimes have been committed, and society will not be harmed by expungement, then a judge may consider expungement. Judges typically follow previous rulings that stipulate conditions for expungement, but they are not required by Wisconsin state law to do so in all instances.

For instances in which expungement was not ordered by the court in the initial sentencing, it’s still possible to have a record erased, although it’s more difficult to do so. If an individual was a minor when he or she committed a misdemeanor, the individual can seek expungement. A judge will consider expungement if no subsequent crimes have been committed by the individual (misdemeanor or felony) and all of the previously listed conditions of the expungement process have been met.

To begin the expungement request process, an individual must first visit the court in the jurisdiction where the initial offense was committed. The petition must be submitted to the district attorney before the court is asked to consider it. It is advisable, even in instances in which expungement was stipulated in the initial sentence, to contact a private attorney who has previous experience with the expungement process.