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Expunging a drug conviction in D.C.

Jamison KoehlerDrug Offenses

One of the most promising opportunities for expunging a criminal record in D.C. is in connection with a drug case. Specifically, according to § 48-904.01(e) of the D.C. Controlled Substances Act, a person who has no previous drug conviction can, upon being found guilty of a drug offense, ask the court to delay entering the guilty judgment into the record for up to a year while the person completes a period of probation.  

If during this period the person violates any terms of the probation, the court enters the “adjudication of guilt” and the person is convicted.  If, on the other hand, the person completes the probation successfully, the court “shall discharge such person and dismiss the proceedings against him or her.” In other words, the person avoids being convicted. 

Once the proceedings have been dismissed, the person can ask the court to expunge all official records associated with the case, including “all recordation relating to his or her arrest, indictment or information, trial, finding of guilty, and dismissal and discharge.”  If granted, the order restores the person to the position he occupied before the arrest. In other words, in the eyes of the law, it is as if the arrest never happened.  The court will retain a non-public copy of the proceedings for the sole purpose of ascertaining in subsequent proceedings whether or not the person has already taken advantage of this section.  

The requirement of no previous conviction applies to a conviction in either D.C. or elsewhere.  

One major benefit of § 49-904.01(e) is that it applies to felonies as well as misdemeanors.  A limiting factor is that, unlike other sealing/expungement statutes in D.C., treatment under this section must be invoked at the time of the guilty plea or verdict.  You cannot go back and request treatment under the section years later.  Instead, in the case of a misdemeanor conviction, you would need to file a motion to seal the conviction under D.C. Code § 16-803(c).  In that case, a felony conviction would not be eligible for sealing or expungement at all.