Does a Felony Ever Go Away?
A felony charge will stay on your record for life. The only way to remove a felony from your record is through a strict process called expungement (more on expungement below).
Why Felony Records are Permanent
Felonies are the most serious, often violent, crimes. They include offenses like murder, arson, fraud, armed robbery, etc. Being convicted of a felony is a long process that requires arraignments, pre-trial conferences, motion hearings, and a trial. Felonies aren't doled out lightly.
When someone is convicted of a felony, the crime is deemed serious enough (and the trial thorough enough) that all felonies stay on your record permanently. This means landlords, employers, banks, and law enforcement can see any felony you've ever been convicted of.
Felonies and Employment
How employers use felony background information varies by state. There are 13 states (CA, CO, NM, NE, IL, MN, HI, MA, MD, NJ, CT, RI, and DE) that have created laws "banning the box" asking about criminal convictions on job applications. In those 13 states, employers can use background checks, but can't ask about convictions until later in the hiring process.
Additionally, the Federal US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) endorsed the removal of questions about convictions from job applications as part of best hiring practices.
However, while those states have fairer hiring practices, employers are still able to run a background check and see felony convictions.
The only way to get rid of a felony record is to have it expunged, which means erasing the record like it never occurred. Requirements for expunging a record vary by state. Many states don't allow violent felony offenders to expunge their records. Other states only allow "youthful offenders" to expunge their records, and still other states require proof of rehabilitation. Getting a felony expunged is difficult, and each state has very specific rules about what can and cannot be expunged.
So, How Long Does a Felony Stay On Your Record?
Unfortunately a felony doesn't ever go away unless you go through a strict process to have it expunged. While many states have banned asking about felony convictions on applications, most employers will find past felonies by running a background check or asking candidates about their criminal past later on in the hiring process. While being a felon may keep you from having certain jobs, it doesn't mean that you won't be able to find one.
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