People who have been convicted of a crime could face consequences years into the future. So long as the crime remains on your record, others will be able to view it with a simple background check. When you are trying to find a job or a place to live, a background check could complicate things for you. Currently, Wisconsin is in the process of changing its laws to make expunging criminal records easier, in line with a national trend of criminal justice reform. However, the current laws are more restrictive. Nonetheless, it is possible to remove some convictions from your record.

There are 1.4 million people in Wisconsin who have criminal records. They can face a variety of repercussions so long as these offenses are visible, even if the crime was committed many years ago. People could effectively end up with a life sentence, even after they have served their time and paid the price for the conviction.

You Can Benefit From the Fresh Start That Expungement Provides

Expungement helps you move on with your life. When your crime is hidden from public view, you are better able to get a fresh start. The good news is that it can be possible for a wide range of offenses. The bad news is that Wisconsin laws are tougher than those on the books in most states. Unlike other states, Wisconsin limits expungement based on the age that you were when the crime was committed.

Right now, expungement laws in Wisconsin are limited to removing certain offenses committed by people when they were youths. If you committed the crime when you were over the age of 25, you would not be able to have it sealed on your record. The proposed legislation would remove the age requirement, as the current law seems arbitrary and unfair.

The Limits on Expungements in Wisconsin

There are tight criteria for expungement in Wisconsin. The court would determine whether you are eligible for this relief at the time of your sentencing, and you would need to ask for it at the time.

There are a handful of main rules for Wisconsin expungements:

  • If the crime was committed on or after July 1, 2009, you must have been less than 25 years old at the time of the offense (for offenses committed before that date, you must have been 21 years or younger).
  • The punishment for the crime was six years or less.

Even with the six-year rule, there are certain crimes that are excluded from expungement rules. There are some felonies that cannot be expunged. Only misdemeanors and certain low-level felonies are eligible. In addition, you must have completed the terms of your sentence before the crime can be expunged. Completing the terms of your sentence also means that you have not violated any terms of your probation or parole. You would need to request expungement at the time of your sentencing.

The benefit of expungement is that nobody in the future would be able to learn about your priority conviction. Expungement means that the crime is sealed off from the public. If one views your background, it would be as if you never committed the crime. However, you would still have a criminal record, albeit one that is not viewable by the public. The records would still exist for law enforcement and other Wisconsin government agencies.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court Is Making Expungement Tougher to Get

At the same time that the Wisconsin Assembly has moved to change expungement laws, the Supreme Court is making it even tougher for people to clear their records under the current law on the books. In June 2021, the Supreme Court issued a decision that stated that judges do not have any wiggle room in interpreting the law to make expungement easier. Instead, they must strictly apply the law as written. In this case, the petitioners were required to strictly follow the conditions of their probation to the letter in order to get an expungement, but they did not.

However, expungement is still a possibility. You can still clear your record if you meet the conditions of the law. You should check with an attorney to see if such an action is an option that can work for you. In the future, the law may make it easier. Therefore, even if expungement is not an option for you now, you should continue to check with a lawyer to see if it may be a possibility in the future. If the law eventually passes (efforts to change it have gone on for years), it would apply retroactively to offenses that were committed in the past.

Be Careful Making Decisions When Facing Charges

Being mindful of decision-making is something that you need to keep in mind when you are deciding how to deal with the criminal charges that you are facing. The prosecutor may be trying to charge you with a certain felony that may be ineligible for expungement. Alternatively, the sentence for the offense could impose terms that are very tough to meet (making you ineligible for expungement when you cannot fulfill all of the terms of the sentence).

Pleading guilty to certain crimes could leave you with a lifetime criminal record. Your attorney may advise you to consider a plea deal if you can plead down to offenses that are eligible for expungement. Your attorney may advise you to fight the charges, given the ramifications of a conviction.

Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer

There are many things that you need to consider when you find yourself in the criminal justice system. You must look at the short and long term with whatever decisions you are making. What seems like the easy decision today could leave you facing the consequences in the future. The attorneys at Hogan Eickhoff will advise you of the entire picture. Call us today at (920) 450-9800 or contact us online to schedule your free initial consultation. These are not decisions that you should be making on your own.