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Expunging court records in Wisconsin

Criminal defense can involve many aspects of a defendant's life. There is no question that the long-term consequences that result from an arrest on drug charges, sex crimes, assault and battery allegations or theft, for example, are something that an individual will deal with even if proven innocent. For the guilty, minimizing the penalties is often the optimal goal.

There are some circumstances under which a Wisconsin court will expunge criminal records. This means the entire criminal case file, hard copy and computerized, is sealed. No one is allowed access to this information without a specific court order. Even a reference to a case that has been expunged is no longer allowed on the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access website.

There are three reasons a court will expunge a criminal record. When a juvenile who has complied with the conditions of a case order reaches age 17, he or she may petition the court to expunge the criminal record. Certain crimes in Wisconsin committed by a youthful offender qualify once a sentence is properly completed if the court approved the expungement when sentence was imposed. The third instance would be if a defendant committed a commercial sex act because he or she was a victim of human trafficking. Traffic forfeitures, civil cases or small claims cases don't qualify for expungement under Wisconsin law. Subsequent convicted felony offenders may not have a record expunged.

Because there are certain circumstances under which portions of a criminal record may be sealed, a legal review of any case from that perspective may be helpful. An arrest that doesn't result in criminal charges, for instance, may fit the criteria needed to have some related information removed from the Wisconsin Criminal History Repository. A governor's pardon doesn't limit access to the case record. A simple notation is added that the pardon was granted.

Specific forms are required by the courts when petitioning for expungement. There is a distinction based on sentencing before or after July 1, 2009, juvenile age and sentence duration.

Source: Eau Claire Office of Court Operations, "Expunging Court Records" accessed Feb. 03, 2015

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