Having spent a majority of my life as a criminal defense attorney, one of the questions I get asked frequently is how to get a criminal charge removed from your record. The process – known as an expungement – in Louisiana criminal courts is both simple and complex: simple, in that it doesn’t require and vast legal knowledge to complete the required paperwork; but complex, in that the procedures for preparing, filing and processing the paperwork can be overwhelming if you don’t know what you are doing.
Because it can be so confusing for someone to navigate the expungement process, I recommend hiring a lawyer to help. But, the law allows individuals to prepare and file expungements on their own – without a lawyer. So, if you are so bold as to wade into this on your own, here are a few tips to help you:
1. Know where you need to file before you start.
You expungement needs to be filed with the Clerk of Court in the courthouse where your conviction was entered. In the New Orleans area (including the suburban jurisdictions) there are at least 10 different possibilities of where this is. The Clerk of Court, or a local criminal defense lawyer can help you figure out where you need to file so you don’t waste your time and effort filing in the wrong courthouse.
2. Ask the clerk of court for any expungement forms that might help you.
While many jurisdictions do not have expungement forms to use (leaving you to draft them on your own – or get help from a criminal attorney), many not only have forms, but actually require that their own forms be used. Once you have identified the appropriate clerk to contact, be sure to check to see whether there are forms available that may help – or that may be required for an expungement motion in that jurisdiction.
3. Don’t expect to get any advice from the clerk of court about how to fill out the expungement paperwork.
Though the clerk may have paperwork to assist you, they generally will not allow their employees to help you fill out the paperwork. Generally, this is seen as providing “legal advice”, something only a lawyer can give. Most of the time the information required on expungement forms does not require and particularly complicated legal advice, but it can be confusing to figure out what information goes where, and what documents are required to be attached to the motion. If you are in doubt and feel like you need help filing the forms, you may want to consider contacting a lawyer to help.
4. Make sure you get certified copies of any court documents you need to attach to the expungement motion.
Expungements usually require that certain documents be attached to the motion. These documents vary from court to court, but depending on the type of case usually include arrest documents, guilty plea forms, probation paperwork, and/or dismissal paperwork. Make sure you know what documents to attach, and where to get copies of them. Generally, copies these documents need to be certified by the clerk as “true copies”. Make sure you know whether you need to have them certified, as this is an additional step.
5. Determine whether court costs are due, and if so, when they are due, and in what form payment needs to be made.
Different court also have different requirements about the payment of court fees associated with expungements. In almost all cases there is a $250.00 fee due to the State of Louisiana to process an expungement. In most cases, there are also fees to the local court, as well as the sheriff. The clerk will have a schedule of fees associated with each type of expungement, and a required method and time of payment. Make certain that you follow these procedures exactly, both in terms of the amount and method of payment. Also please note that there may be certain circumstances where the District Attorney in a particular jurisdiction can waive the filing fees associated with an expungement – most often in connection with charges that were dismissed. Be sure to check to see if you qualify for a free expungement.
6. If all else fails, get a lawyer to help you with your expungement.
Expungement procedures in New Orleans area courts can be confusing and frustrating. Though you can do it yourself (and hopefully the above discussion will help you do this if you wish to) you might feel like you are still in over your hear when it comes to getting it done correctly. A good criminal defense lawyer who handles lots of expungements might add marginally to the cost of handling your expungement, but in the scheme of the money and time you are already spending to handle the expungement on your own, it might just be money well spent.