What is Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence is a crime against another person intimately related to (marriage, domestic partnership, dating, etc.) or closely related by blood or marriage to the person convicted of the domestic violence offense, as defined by law in most states in the United States. A record with a domestic violence conviction on it can make it hard to find employment. Since it is usually considered a low-level crime, most states will allow a domestic violence arrest or conviction to be expunged.
Our free online eligibility test can quickly tell you if your domestic violence record is eligible to be expunged.
Expungement laws vary by state, so the best thing to do is to take our free online eligibility test to see if you can have your domestic violence case expunged. If your record is in a state in which we do not offer expungement services, please call an attorney in your state. Do not take legal advice from anyone unless they are licensed to practice law in the state where the domestic violence offense occurred.
Why Get a Domestic Violence Expungement?
Studies show that more than 80 percent of employers conduct background checks. As one can imagine, most employers are concerned about potential employees who have an offense with the word “violent” in it. Many employers do not take into account the circumstances surrounding a domestic violence case. A person can be arrested for domestic violence for making threats or behavior that is considered harassment. Often, these crimes are one person’s word against another’s and the alleged victim is not entirely blameless. Police officers will sometimes choose to arrest one of the parties involved in a domestic disturbance though the alleged victim played just as big a role in the argument as the person arrested. Once the record is expunged, obtaining employment should be much easier.
Making it so that employer will not be able to see the arrest or court case is one of the main reasons people get their domestic violence charges expunged. It can also allow you to honestly answer “no” to any question about having had a criminal record. There are many benefits to record expungement. Each state has different laws, but, in general, all of the expungement laws are designed to give people a better chance of reintegrating into society. It will be easier to gain employment, housing and educational opportunities (such as grants, student loans, and work-study).
How to Get a Domestic Violence Charge Expunged
The first question that most people ask when they are convicted of domestic violence (or any crime) is "how do I live with the label of being a criminal?" If you have been convicted of domestic violence, you have probably wondered this exact same thing.
The answer depends on many things, but first and foremost it depends on where the offense occurred. It is that state’s law that will dictate if and when you can get your record expunged.
In general, expungement involves filing a motion or petition with the court. The petition usually has to be served (which means delivered) to the prosecution, too. Most courts also let people submit written testimony and provide any supporting evidence with the motion or petition. Keep in mind, that whichever documents are filed with the court must also be provided to the prosecution. The court will review the petition and determine if you are eligible and deserving. The prosecution may object if they do not believe that you deserve to have your domestic violence offense expunged. The court may have a hearing, where you will be required to provide oral arguments in support of your request for expungement. Hiring an attorney can greatly improve your chances of successfully expunging a domestic violence charge.
Chances of a Successful Domestic Violence Expungement
Each case, state and court are different, so the chances of success in expunging domestic violence can vary from state to state. Attorney Mathew Higbee says that his nationwide success rate is about 95% on domestic violence expungement cases.
“Domestic violence offenses are not the typically the type of case that people commit habitually, unless substance abuse is involved or the person is stuck in a volatile relationship. While some cases of domestic violence are abusive and should be taken seriously, these offenses are all to often an argument that gets out-of-hand by people who are in an intimate relationship where emotions run high. As a result, courts tend to grant expungement requests when presented with the surrounding circumstance, especially if the person has gone a few years without any domestic violence crimes,” said Melissa Clark, Associate Attorney at RecordGone.com.
Definition of Domestic Violence
- Domestic violence
- Is abuse or threats of abuse where the victim and offender are in an intimate relationship or closely related by blood or marriage. State law determines what constitutes domestic violence.
In California, for example, Penal Code section 13700 defines domestic violence as abuse against an adult who is the person’s “spouse, former spouse, cohabitant, former cohabitant, or person with whom the suspect has had a child or is having or has had a dating or engagement relationship.”
Can I restore my gun rights that I lost when I was convicted of domestic violence?
There is a lifetime prohibition from the United States government (Lautenberg Amendment to the Violence Against Women Act), which prohibits firearm ownership of those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence as defined by the federal law. The federal definition is narrower than some state’s definition, so your domestic violence conviction might not trigger the federal law.
The federal law (U.S.C. § 921(a)(33)) defines domestic violence as any offense which "has, as an element, the use or attempted use of physical force, or the threatened use of a deadly weapon, committed by a current or former spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim, by a person with whom the victim shares a child in common, by a person who is cohabiting with or has cohabited with the victim as a spouse, parent, or guardian, or by a person similarly situated to a spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim."
Expungement does not lift the federal prohibition unless the state also took away the firearm rights for life. Additionally, some states, including California, prohibit a person convicted of domestic violence from owning a firearm for specific periods of time. Expungement will not lift these prohibitions either.
Find out if you qualify for a record expungement by taking our free expungement eligibility test.
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About The Author
Mathew Higbee is a recognized authority on criminal record clearing. He has worked on more than 2,000 expungement cases in 6 states. He successfully argued the published case of People v. McLernon which helped define California's expungement law.