Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Louisiana Expungements
The Louisiana Expungement Assistance & Advocacy Center (LEAAC), a division of the law practice of S. Christie Smith IV, has extensive experience in obtaining expungements for arrests and convictions throughout the state of Louisiana, as well as in the development and application of the newly-reformed Louisiana expungement laws. If you have any questions about getting a Louisiana expungement, please call LEAAC at 318.308.7667. An attorney will review your case, offer suggestions on the best course of action for your circumstances, and answer your questions—often on the same day.
- What exactly is an “expungement” in Louisiana?
The Louisiana expungement law defines the phrase "expunge a record" as follows: to remove a record of arrest or conviction, photographs, fingerprints, disposition, or any other information of any kind from public access pursuant to the provisions of this Title [the Louisiana expungement law]. "Expunge a record" does not mean destruction of the record.
- Is an expungement the same as an “Article 893/894” or deferred sentence?
No. This is a common misunderstanding. Under Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure articles 893 (for felonies) and 894 (for misdemeanors), in some limited circumstances, the court may allow a first-offender to change his record of conviction to a record of an acquittal (“not guilty”) after he completes his probation, refrains from future criminal conduct, files an affidavit of compliance with the clerk of court, and pays additional court costs. While this process does cancel the conviction, it still leaves your public criminal record reflecting that the arrest, conviction, and 893/894 acquittal occurred.
- Is an expungement the same as a “first offender’s pardon”?
No. In Louisiana, after a felony sentence (including parole and probation) has been completed, an “automatic” pardon is given to most first-time offenders. An automatic first offender pardon does not seal your record from public view, nor does it prevent the state from using your record against you in the future. It is primarily designed to restore your voting rights. A “full,” “gold-seal,” or “governor’s” pardon, in contrast, does prevent your criminal conviction from being used against you by the state at a later prosecution, and it returns you to the legal status held prior to arrest. Governor’s pardons are extremely rare—historically, only a few dozen are granted each year—but either type of pardon still leaves your public record of arrest, conviction, and pardon intact and part of the public record.
- What if I pleaded “no contest” or nolo contendere?
For criminal law purposes, that is the same as a “guilty” plea or outright conviction. Nolo contendere, in criminal trials, is a plea where the defendant neither admits nor disputes a charge—he has “no contest” to them, but accepts punishment in the same way as if he had pleaded “guilty.” While not technically a guilty plea, it has exactly the same criminal legal effect as a guilty plea, and is often recorded in criminal records as a “guilty” plea. It is a conviction and is subject to any and all penalties, fines, and forfeitures of a conviction from a guilty plea, and it can be used in future criminal actions. The only difference between a “guilty” plea and a “no contest” is that, in civil cases, the conviction may not be used to establish negligence, intent, or even whether the acts were committed at all, in later civil proceedings that arise from the same set of facts as the original criminal prosecution. If you pleaded nolo contendere or “no contest,” you will still have a criminal record of arrest and conviction.
- What if I was arrested for a crime, but the charge was dismissed? Is that on my record, even though it was dismissed?
Yes. When the police record or access your “criminal history,” it will be a reflection of all your arrests and convictions. If you were arrested but the charges were dismissed, then you will have the arrest on your record but no conviction. The record may-or-may-not reflect that the charges were “dismissed,” though a careful reader of your record could deduce that the charges were dismissed if there is an arrest record but no corresponding conviction record. Further, the clerk for the court where the matter was prosecuted, if it went that far, will store your file in an area or under a designation available for public access, and your name will appear in the index of criminal matters docketed for any court action (e.g., initial presentment, bail, bond reductions, appointment of counsel, motions to quash indictment or suppress evidence, discovery motions, bills of particulars, etc.) Additionally, the arresting agency will have a public record of your “booking” information, initial report, and arrest warrant. Every time your criminal history is checked by law enforcement or private background check companies, your arrest will be revealed, unless it has been expunged. An expungement is necessary to make your history confidential and remove your arrest and all related documents from public access.
- What if the police just gave me a “ticket,” “citation,” or a “summons” to appear in court for a charge, and they did not take me to jail or make me post bail? Does that mean I wasn’t arrested so there won’t be anything on my record?
No. At least as far as your criminal record is concerned, a reportable arrest occurred when the officer gave you a ticket, citation, or summons. The fact that you were not “booked” into jail does not mean you were not arrested. In some jurisdictions, law enforcement officers have some professional discretion in certain misdemeanor arrests to give a summons to appear in court instead of taking you to jail. Most commonly, this would occur in traffic violations, though, in some cases, it could extend even to minor drug offenses. From a practical perspective, if you were not booked into jail, there may be fewer records of your arrest, and your information will not be in as many databases, which may create the illusion in some cases that a record does not exist, but that type of arrest must still be expunged to remove it from your “record.” Additionally, regardless of whether you were taken to jail or not, if you pleaded “guilty,” were convicted, or paid a fine, that will be reflected as a conviction on your record which can only be removed by an expungement. It is rarely cost-effective or reasonable to expunge a simple traffic ticket, however, and if the arrest/ticket was for a traffic violation, the Department of Motor Vehicles has its own internal rules for removing those convictions from your “driving history,” which is technically different from your “criminal history.” An expungement in that case may be neither necessary nor effective.
- How long does my arrest or conviction stay on my Louisiana criminal record?
Forever, unless you have it expunged. There are, however, limits on how old convictions can be used against you by the authorities and private companies. This is a complex area of the law. Some offenses can be used against you for ten years, others forever, and still others for a different period of time, depending on how the state is trying to use them against you. Fairly or not, private companies and individuals can often use your record against you however they wish and for as long as they wish.
- Why would I want an expungement?
Employment is the most-often cited answer. After an expungement in Louisiana, when you apply for a job, you are permitted to say on your application that you have never been arrested or convicted for any charge that has been expunged. Further, because the arrest and conviction have been sealed and made confidential, employers and background check companies will not have access to your expunged record and cannot be informed of it. There are civil penalties that you can impose against private companies for reporting a criminal history when the record has been expunged, if the company has knowledge of the expungement.
Gun Rights are a common reason people seek an expungement, though the law is still unclear on the practical effects of expungement on weapons rights restoration. In 2016, the legislature modified the law so that reformed felons may receive a concealed weapons permit if they had a non-violent, non-sexual prior conviction that was expunged, was sentenced under Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure Article 893, and is more than 10 years past the completion of sentence.
Moreover, those same changes in the law were intended by the legislature to make Louisiana law conform with federal laws permitting reformed felons to pass a federal background check to purchase a weapon. This is a developing area of law, and the results are not certain yet.
Banking companies, too, will often check criminal history when evaluating you for a loan, so an expungement can shield that information from an entity deciding whether to issue you credit. While a conviction generally plays no direct part in your credit score, there are circumstances where, as part of the sentence, restitution is owed to a victim or others. Those debts, judgments, or delinquencies can be reported to credit agencies.
Like banks, insurance companies sometimes review criminal history in deciding whether to issue certain types of insurance, or how much to charge you for that insurance. Expunging a record of arrest or conviction may make you eligible for certain types of insurance coverage otherwise unavailable, or it may reduce what you pay for that insurance.
Many state licensing and credentialing boards review applicants’ criminal histories when deciding whether to issue a license or certificate. In Louisiana, unless the licensing agency is one of those specifically empowered within the expungement statute to obtain criminal history, those agencies or boards will not have access to your expunged records.
Numerous family matters are affected by a criminal conviction. When asking for child custody, adoption, curatorship, tutorship, executive powers over estates, and so forth, background checks are frequently used in assessing risk or suitability for those legal designations. An expungement will shield your confidential criminal information from review, unless there is a court order to open the record.
Access to public housing or “Section 8” housing allowances can be denied if you have a criminal conviction or even a recent arrest. Federal law permits housing authorities to evaluate housing applicants’ criminal histories to determine suitability for this federal assistance. Expunging your record can shield this information from a housing authority. Similarly, private landlords often request background histories of applicants and tenants. Because private landlords may refuse to rent to you because of a criminal history, or even evict you if they discover criminal history, an expungement will shield that information from private individuals seeking to obtain it.
Like federal housing entitlements, your federal student loans and grants can be affected by a criminal conviction. An expungement is a factor that can be considered when determining whether to waive ineligibility or extend eligibility for those forms of financial assistance.
College admissions can be affected by criminal convictions. As many as 60% of colleges and universities review criminal history when evaluating an applicant. While the existence of a criminal history may-or-may-not prevent you from being accepted, it is a factor that the university is permitted to consider. An expungement will shield that record from those seeking to acquire it.
Many prestigious professional organizations evaluate potential members’ criminal histories before offering membership. An expungement can prevent those organizations from obtaining your criminal record.
Even some volunteer organizations evaluate criminal history. For some kinds of charitable, sports, coaching, intramural, or volunteer work, a particular institution or group may not allow you to work with them or to volunteer at their organization if you have a criminal record. Expungements can keep these private organizations from having access to your criminal history.
Finally, one of the most satisfying reasons you might expunge a criminal record is simply to find peace of mind—to put the past behind you and to move forward without the shadow of a prior mistake forever haunting your present and future prospects. Working people often find it hard to cope with employment, colleagues, or continuing with jobs after a conviction. You may fear you could be terminated, and future employers may refuse to employ you once they find out about a criminal record. The social stigma of a criminal history is daunting and can limit the options of your entire family when you or a member of your family has a criminal conviction. Neighbors and new acquaintances often treat those with criminal histories with suspicion or guarded reserve. While expunging a record cannot erase or “undo” your past history, it obviously can bring a great sense of relief, closure, and finality to a painful episode in the past. Expunging the criminal records of your children can aid in placing them on an equal footing with their contemporaries, and expunging your own criminal history can help in creating a more stable and satisfying home, social, and professional life. In short, expungement is an investment in closure and redemption that can greatly improve the quality of your life and those who depend on you.
- Who can get an expungement?
Almost anyone who has a Louisiana state court, non-violent felony or misdemeanor conviction who has successfully completed his sentence and waited the required period of time may ask for an expungement. An expungement requires court approval and an order from the court to all agencies holding your records. The Louisiana legislature has recently developed uniform procedures and forms to be used in all courts throughout Louisiana.
If you had problems on probation, don’t give up hope for an expungement. If you were convicted of charges on several dates from different actions, don’t give up hope for an expungement. If you have recent convictions, don’t give up hope for an expungement. At LEAAC, we will obtain and review your official criminal records, and an attorney will give you honest, professional advice on how to maximize your odds for success in cleaning your record, based on your individual circumstances. There are many routes to obtaining your goals, and sometimes these problems can be “worked out.” We have helped hundreds of people who violated probation, were convicted of multiple charges, or had other “complications.” It definitely makes your expungement case more difficult, but it doesn’t necessarily make it impossible. There are some limited exceptions to these prohibitions, as well, and a lawyer at LEAAC will be happy to discuss this complicated area of the law with you.
- Can federal arrest and conviction records be expunged?
Generally not. There is no federal statutory authority for expungement, except in the limited case of an arrest for simple drug possession when under 21 years old. Federal courts have struggled with whether or not they even have the authority to order a record “expunged” outside that limited circumstance, even when the defendant has been found “not guilty” after trial. Even under best of circumstances, arrests or convictions for federal charges cannot be expunged, unless the case ended with a complete acquittal or exoneration, the arrest was unconstitutional, or the prosecution was premised on government misconduct. Even then, expungement is at the discretion of the court, is highly controversial, differs among the jurisdictions, and, frankly, is both rare and unpredictable.
See our blog updates about recent developments in the federal system relating to expungements and federal employment.
- Can all Louisiana criminal convictions be expunged?
No. The record of arrest for any crime for which someone is not ultimately convicted can be expunged. This can include crimes for which someone was arrested but not prosecuted, as well as crimes for which someone was prosecuted, but found “not guilty.” It can also include cases where someone was arrested for one charge but found guilty of a lesser one. Expunging the record of a conviction, however, is generally not possible for sex crimes, crimes of violence, distribution of a controlled dangerous substance, misdemeanor domestic abuse battery and misdemeanor stalking. There are some limited exceptions to these prohibitions, as well, and a lawyer at LEAAC will be happy to discuss this complicated area of the law with you.
- Are there any people, state agencies, or boards that will still be able to see my record after I expunge it?
Yes. According to the Louisiana expungement law, the people and entities which will still have access to your expunged Louisiana criminal record are:
- you and your lawyer;
- some prosecutors, police, and criminal justice agencies, but only if they shall request that information in writing, certifying that it is for investigating, prosecuting, or enforcing criminal law, or for other statutorily defined law enforcement or administrative duties (such as weapons checks or “concealed carry” permits), or for the requirements of sex offender registration and notification;
- others, with court order, after a contradictory hearing and for good cause shown;
- confidentially, the Office of Financial Institutions, if you apply for a supervisory position with a banking institution;
- confidentially, the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners, if you are a physician or are applying;
- confidentially, the Louisiana State Board of Nursing, if you are a nurse or are applying;
- confidentially, the Louisiana State Board of Dentistry, if you are a dentist or are applying;
- confidentially, the Louisiana State Board of Examiners of Psychologists, if you are a psychologist or are applying;
- confidentially, the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy, if you are a pharmacist or are applying;
- confidentially, the Louisiana State Board of Social Work Examiners, if you are a social worker or are applying;
- confidentially, the Emergency Medical Services Certification Commission, if you are an EMT or are applying;
- confidentially, the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board, Office of Disciplinary Counsel, if you are an attorney;
- confidentially, the Louisiana Supreme Court Committee on Bar Admissions, if you are applying for a law license;
- confidentially, the Louisiana Department of Insurance, if you are applying for supervisory position with and insurance company;
- confidentially, the Louisiana Licensed Professional Counselors Board of Examiners, if you are an LPC or are applying;
- confidentially, any entity requesting a record pursuant to LSA-R.S. 15:587.1, if you have applied for a position requiring care and supervision of children.
Any person or entity above who fails to maintain the confidentiality of your records is subject to contempt of court sanctions.
- How long do I have to wait to apply for an expungement if I was arrested but never prosecuted?
It depends on whether the prosecutor formally dismissed/declined to accept the charges, or, instead, simply never took action to prosecute the case. If the charges were formally dismissed, an application for expungement can be filed immediately. On the other hand, if the prosecutor has just not taken action to prosecute, then these time limits apply:
- No time limit for prosecution—Crimes punishable by death or life imprisonment;
- 6 years—Felonies necessarily punishable by imprisonment “at hard labor;”
- 4 years—Felonies not necessarily punishable by imprisonment at hard labor;
- 2 years—Misdemeanors punishable by fine or imprisonment;
- 6 months—Misdemeanors punishable only by fine (most traffic tickets, for example).
In addition, when a prosecution has been initiated but not successfully completed, an application for expungement may be filed immediately following an acquittal or successful motion to quash the charges.
- How long after my conviction do I have to wait to ask for an expungement?
To expunge a misdemeanor conviction, five years must have elapsed since the completion of any sentence, deferred adjudication, or period of probation or parole, and you must not have been convicted of any felony offense during the five-year period, nor have felony charges pending when you apply. A misdemeanor sentence imposed under article 894(B) is not subject to the five year rule and can be expunged immediately upon completion of deferred adjudication. You can expunge a misdemeanor conviction only once every five years, though there are some exceptions. A misdemeanor DWI may be expunged only once every ten years. There are some limited exceptions to these prohibitions, as well, and a lawyer at LEAAC will be happy to discuss this complicated area of the law with you.
To expunge a felony conviction, ten years must have elapsed since the completion of any sentence, deferred adjudication, or period of probation or parole, and you must not have been convicted of any other criminal offense during the ten-year period, nor have criminal charges pending when you apply. If your sentence was imposed under 893(E), you do not have to wait ten years and can ask for an expungement immediately upon completion of deferred adjudication. Normally, you can expunge a felony conviction only once every fifteen years. There are some limited exceptions to these prohibitions, as well, and a lawyer at LEAAC will be happy to discuss this complicated area of the law with you.
- If I apply for a job after my record is expunged, how do I answer questions about my record on a job application?
You may say “no” to any question that asks if you have been arrested or convicted of a crime. You may also deny that you received an expungement. The Louisiana expungement law now states explicitly that
“except as to those persons and other entities set forth in Paragraph A of this Article, no person whose record of arrest or conviction has been expunged shall be required to disclose to any person that he was arrested or convicted of the subject offense, or that the record of the arrest or conviction has been expunged.”
There are some limited exceptions to these prohibitions, as well, and a lawyer at LEAAC will be happy to discuss this complicated area of the law with you.
- If I get my record expunged, are there situations where I would still have to disclose an expunged criminal record?
There are a few, and you should discuss them with an attorney, if you think these may apply to you. Here are several situations that may require you to disclose an expungement, depending on some variable circumstances:
- Applying for a state-issued professional license. Some professional applications require it, and some do not. A Louisiana expungement expressly allows you to deny the existence of an expunged arrest or conviction to an employer, but it is less clear regarding licensing agencies. At least as it applies to the licensing agencies which are specifically authorized to access your expunged record, you should disclose the expungement in your application. You may not have to disclose an expungement in an application to an agency not listed in the expungement statute.
- Applying for a law-enforcement job. Disclosure is definitely required for a federal law-enforcement position, such as with the FBI, because the Louisiana expungement statute does not govern federal agencies. Further, since Louisiana law enforcement officers are authorized to obtain your expunged record when they certify in writing that it is for an administrative function such as your asking for employment with the Louisiana State Police, disclosure may be necessary. You might also want to disclose expungements if you apply to be a local police officer. Often, even if you disclose the expungement, the agency can consider the expungement as a mitigating factor, and not use it to disqualify you for a law enforcement job.
- Applying for some school-related jobs. Louisiana has a special statute allowing access to expunged records for those applying for jobs at schools which involve supervision or discipline of children.
- Buying a firearm or applying for a concealed carry permit. Louisiana requires the disclosure for a concealed carry permit application. The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives does not require the disclosure of an expunged charge and will have access to your criminal history, anyway, when you submit to a background check to purchase a weapon. The ATF may consider an expungement evidence of rehabilitation, however. Sadly, what the federal government considers "expungement" to be and what the Louisiana expungement statute actually accomplishes may not be the same thing. This is a very complex legal question, and a lawyer at LEAAC will be happy to discuss this complicated area of the law with you.
- How much does an expungement cost?
Unfortunately, the expungement law requires you to pay processing fees and costs to many different agencies and can be somewhat expensive. The filing costs of expungements generally range from $550 to over $700, depending on whether a DWI is involved and whether a prior conviction must be converted to an 893/894 acquittal before the expungement can go through. Clerks of court often require a separate petition (and separate costs) to process multiple charges from multiple dates. The law is currently unclear whether this is required in all cases. The costs must be paid in full at the same time you file the petition for expungement because several agencies will receive a portion of this cost. They are as follows:
- $250 to the Louisiana State Police, Bureau of Criminal Identification and Information;
- $200 to the clerk of court;
- $50 to the parish district attorney’s office; and
- $50 to the parish sheriff’s office.
If an 893/894 affidavit is required, there are additional fees:
- $60 to the clerk of court; and
- $50 to the parish sheriff’s office.
If a DWI is involved, there are more additional fees:
- $50 to the Louisiana Department of Motor Vehicles
- $50 (additional) to the Louisiana Department of Motor Vehicle, if there is an 894.
Attorneys’ fees generally range between $1250 and $2500 at LEAAC, depending on the complexity of the case, the number of charges, whether hearings are required, whether agencies object to the expungement, and the accuracy of information you provide about your arrests and convictions. The vast majority of LEAAC clients will spend between $2000 and $3000, including all of the filing fees, to complete the expungement process.
- Will I get my filing fees back if my expungement is not granted?
No. The Louisiana expungement law was recently amended to require prepayment to the clerk for all court and processing fees when you file your petition for expungement, and to provide that those fees are no longer refundable.
- Will I get my attorneys’ fees back if my expungement is not granted?
No. LEAAC charges a minimum fee which is not refundable. We bill by the hour for our work that exceeds the minimum fee. For more complicated expungements, we require deposits in excess of the minimum fee, but if our billed time is less than the additional deposit, we will refund the portion of the additional deposits not used. This potential refund of additional deposits is based solely on the amount of time spent on your case and not on the result obtained in court.
- I am indigent. Can I have the court costs and processing fees waived?
No. Your financial condition is not considered by the Louisiana expungement statute. The only circumstances that allow for a waiver of filing costs is (1) when you have no prior felony convictions anywhere in the country, no pending felony prosecutions, and the offense for which you were prosecuted ended in a complete acquittal (“not guilty”) of all charges arising from the arrest, (2) when you have a successful motion to quash the charges before trial, or (3) the prosecutor refused or formally dismissed the charges, and (4) the time limit for prosecution has expired.
- Do I have to hire a lawyer to get an expungement?
No. Uniform rules and forms have been developed by the Louisiana legislature to assist you in filing your own expungement. This information is not a substitute for legal advice, however, and clerks of court are prohibited by law from offering legal advice. The Louisiana expungement process can be complex, and the choices you make while pursuing an expungement can have unforeseen consequences. While an attorney is not required to obtain an expungement, the help of an attorney who has criminal expungement experience is recommended and may protect your rights, give you additional options, or obtain an expungement for you in circumstances where you would be unable to get one yourself. A qualified Louisiana expungement lawyer may also help to understand whether you are entitled to an expungement at all and save you the non-refundable court costs and fees, if you will not qualify for an expungement, or if your chances of success are slim.
- I am indigent. Will the court appoint me a lawyer to help get an expungement?
No. The constitutional “right to counsel” applies only to criminal prosecutions. The court must appoint lawyers to indigent clients facing criminal charge that could result in a jail sentence. An expungement is neither a constitutional right nor a component of a criminal prosecution, so there is no right to appointed counsel.
- How long does the whole expungement process take?
It varies widely. The Louisiana expungement law allows sixty days from the date of filing for all the agencies to respond to your request for an expungement. Thereafter, it may take an additional thirty days to obtain a hearing date, if necessary. After the court rules on the hearing or grants the motion for expungement, it may take several months for the Louisiana State Police to mail you a Certificate of Compliance. There is currently a five-month backlog of expungement orders being processed by the state police. A reasonable expectation for an uncomplicated expungement would be around 6 to 8 months from the time you provide all of the required information to your lawyer, all of the costs, and all of the attorneys’ fees. Some more-complicated expungements can take a year, or more. It is hoped that the state police will add staff to its compliance division to work through the serious backlog of expungements awaiting processing, but that is uncertain at this point.
- Once I get my expungement, how long will it take private background check companies to delete or stop reporting my information?
Usually, it takes several months. Private companies may periodically update their records against state conviction records. They do so on their own timetables. They also must update their record for an individual each time they are requested to provide his criminal history. After an expungement order is processed by the state police in Louisiana, the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Information will alter your record and may report the expungement to certain companies who have previously requested your criminal record. In addition, there are information “clearinghouses” that can process your order of expungement and report the change to hundreds of reporting companies. The clearinghouses generally take a month or so to process an order of expungement.
Of course, the Louisiana expungement law also provides a procedure for you to inform any background check company directly of your expungement, and then it must immediately verify the expungement and stop reporting negative information.
There are private companies that you can hire to “expedite” informing information clearinghouses of your expungement, too. They charge fees for this service, generally $300 to $500. This is a controversial practice, however. Under federal and state law, all criminal background check companies must verify the accuracy of negative information on your criminal background report before they deliver that background report to your employers, landlords, banking services, insurance companies, etc.). Since your expunged criminal record will not appear on any background report run on you by a private company, the background check company will discover your absence of a criminal record in the normal course of processing a request for your record, anyway, so there may be no justification for incurring this cost.
When your expungement is granted, LEAAC can forward a copy of your expungement order to various information clearinghouses. Because there are literally thousands of private background check companies, though, this will not guarantee that every private company will be informed to clean your record. If you know the name of a company that is reporting your record to employers, you can provide that, and LEAAC will notify them directly, as well.
Last updated August 2017