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Heather Jones

If you have been convicted of a criminal offense in the past, you know that it can have a severe and long-term impact on the rest of your life. Many people who have a criminal record seek ways to erase their criminal records. In these situations, expungement is a possible option to erase their record. Wisconsin allows for expungement in limited circumstances.  


To evaluate your chances of getting an expungement, you should meet with an experienced Wisconsin expungement attorney who can discuss your record with you and advise you on the likelihood of having your record expunged. While expungement is not guaranteed, the benefits of having a sealed record from the public can vastly improve your life moving forward. Read on to find out how Wisconsin handles the expungement of criminal records.    

What is Expungement?


Expungement in legal terms is to remove or completely erase the record. The expungement process in the legal system is where the criminal record is either destroyed or sealed from view, making it impossible to access by the general public or by a background check. Expungement does not mean that your matter will be treated like it never happened, just that other people will not be able to see it. Expungement is not the legal system saying that you did not commit a crime; it is not the same as being pardoned or found innocent. A state court judge must order an expungement, and so the process for obtaining one means filing in a state court. An expungement order is for specific acts and only involves court records. An expungement will not restore any rights you lost if you were found guilty of a crime.  


Being granted an expungement order does not remove records from social media or any press type. For example, if you got an OWI in Wisconsin when you were 21 and somehow got the court to delete the record, any online newspaper article relating to that OWI would still be available to the public and not subject to an expungement order. This means that if you are asking for the expungement for privacy-related reasons, it might not be enough to guarantee your privacy about the incident you want to be expunged.    


Some people are concerned about an arrest record, which differs from a criminal record. There could be no expungement of an arrest in Wisconsin if you were not charged with anything. If you want the arrest record removed from state records, you must request the Wisconsin Criminal History Repository.    


If you were charged with a crime and the case was later dismissed, there will also be nothing to expunge. Only a conviction can be expunged, and a dismissal will show up as a dismissal, not a conviction.    


Why Should I Consider Getting an Expungement?  


As discussed above, some people want the expungement for privacy-related reasons. For example, Wisconsin has an online circuit court access program (CCAP) that anyone can search. A party could search your name on CCAP and find out if you had a charge filed against you for possession of illegal drugs or perhaps an assault charge. Some records do automatically purge from CCAP after several years, but it can be a very long wait for someone who would like to keep the matter quiet. Expungement often comes into play when a person is concerned it will affect their job prospects in the future. A criminal record can also negatively impact the licensing process for several professional fields.    


Before asking the Wisconsin courts for an expungement, there is something essential to consider. If the court grants an expungement, the court record will be sealed and cannot be accessed by the public. The court system is not the only entity with a conviction record. However, the Crime Information Bureau, which is a division of the Wisconsin Department of Justice and maintains the Criminal History Repository, will have a record of the conviction. Submitting a request to the Crime Information Bureau is a popular choice for parties who run background checks. For example, potential employers or schools can access a conviction history through the Crime Information Bureau regardless of whether or not the court record has been expunged.    


If you believe that the school or job you are applying to will request records from the Crime Information Bureau, the best approach would be to explain the situation to them before they run the background check. Explain the reasons for getting the expungement and any relevant background facts that you believe would be helpful. Honesty upfront about your past situation and actions could benefit you. Perceived deception about a past criminal conviction could undoubtedly work against you in an application process. The bottom line here is that if a school or potential employer wants to dig deep and submit a request to the Crime Information Bureau, then they will find out about the past conviction no matter what you say or do.    


How do I Expunge Records in Wisconsin?  


Wisconsin is different from other states in the timing of asking for an expungement. You have to request an expungement at the time of sentencing if sentencing is a stage in adjudicating the crime. The expungement will not take place until you have served your entire sentence. If you are sentenced for a crime and do not request expungement, you cannot ask for it later. If there is no sentencing involved with the crime, but you had to pay restitution or a fine, you must ask the court to expunge by filing with the court. It’s essential to start the process as soon as you can. You cannot consider a request for expungement to be a task you can put off until the rest of your case is resolved.  


There are only three situations where you can ask for an expungement in Wisconsin. It also depends on when you are found guilty of a crime.    


If you were the victim of sex trafficking and, as a result, were convicted of a sex-related offense.    


If the crime was a misdemeanor or a first-time non-violent felony with a maximum sentence of six years and you were under the age of 21 when you committed the crime before July 1, 2009. If you were a juvenile delinquent when you committed the crime, the court would expunge your record when you turn 17.  


If the crime was committed after July 1, 2009, the following elements must be met to get an expungement:  


- you asked the court for expungement at the sentencing hearing, and the court agreed to expunge  

- the offense was a misdemeanor or non-violent felony  

- you were under the age of 25 at the time the crime was committed  

- if you were sentenced for the crime, you have completed the sentence  


How do I expunge a felony in Wisconsin?  


Typically, Wisconsin will expunge first-time non-violent felony offenses under the conditions listed above. In June 2021, Wisconsin enacted additional legislation regarding expungement for Class A and B felonies that are non-violent and “two-strike” crimes can get the record expunged if they meet the following conditions:  


- they complete a treatment program or any other program geared towards rehabilitation  

- they are not on parole or subject to felony related parole  

- the sentence was ten years or less, but nine years or less have been served  

- It has been two years since the court entered the conviction  


Wisconsin is still one of the stricter states on expungement. Something to keep in mind is that it is at the court’s discretion to expunge your record. It is not an automatic expungement if the court looks at the facts and circumstances surrounding your conviction and decides that an expungement is not warranted in your case.    



Suppose you are considering asking for an expungement. In that case, it is essential to consult with an experienced attorney to assist with the process. Expungement is not only a time-sensitive issue in most cases, but there are considerable roadblocks to expungement that must be overcome to facilitate getting the record sealed and for the courts to issue a certificate of expungement.  


While you can ask for an expungement pro se or on your own, you risk wasting time with mistakes an experienced attorney would not have made. O’Flaherty Law has experienced Wisconsin Criminal Law attorneys available to help.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.

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