Can you seal/expunge a felony?

by Jamison Koehler on March 30, 2019
expunge felony in dc

Felony Arrests

There are two options for sealing a felony arrest in Washington, D.C.

The first option is to seal all records associated with a felony arrest on the grounds of actual innocence under D.C. Code § 16-802.  Motions under this section can be filed immediately, and have the benefit of restoring the person to the position he/she occupied before the arrest.  As the statute puts it:  “No person as to whom such relief has been granted shall be held thereafter under any provision of law to be guilty of perjury or otherwise giving a false statement by reason of failure to recite or acknowledge his or her arrest, or charge, or trial in response to any inquiry made of him or her for any purpose.” 

The second option would be to seal the arrest under D.C. Code § 16-803.  There are instances in which an arrest that is sealed under this section must still be disclosed.  For example, a person whose arrest is sealed under § 16-803 must still disclose the arrest in connection with jury service or in response to any direct question for employment with any court, prosecutor’s office, law enforcement agency, licensing agency, school, daycare or child protection agency, or senior-executive position or judicial position with the government.   

At the same time, it is easier to seal a criminal record under this section.  Instead of being required to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the person did not commit a criminal offense, as is required under § 16-802, the person must merely prove – also by a preponderance of the evidence – that it is “in the interests of justice to grant relief.”  This is an easier standard to prove. 

Felony Convictions

Felony convictions are typically not eligible for sealing or expungement in D.C.  One exception is a felony conviction for violating the Bail Reform Act. Another possible exception would be a felony conviction under the Controlled Substances Act in which the court imposed a period of probation under D.C. Code § 48-904.01(e).  This is a special provision that allows first-time offenders to avoid having a conviction on their record.  The person is put on a period of pre-judgment probation.  Assuming he/she completes this probationary sentence successful, he/she can petition to have all official records associated with the case expunged.