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Missouri expungement law: What does it mean to seal a record, and how do you do it?

This article was updated to reflect changes in the law, which took effect Aug. 28, 2021. This article refers to statutory expungement. This information should not apply to constitutional expungement rule changes discussed in Amendment 3 that take effect Dec. 8, 2022.

Criminal defense lawyer Scott Pierson has witnessed clients cry and have family celebrations after their records were expunged, a testament to how an update to state law in recent years is positively impacting the lives of Missouri citizens. 

Individuals who committed certain crimes may have those offenses sealed under Missouri’s expungement law, lifting a huge stress off their shoulders and opening the door to potential opportunities, especially when it comes to employment.  

Before the new law took effect, only about a dozen offenses qualified for expungement; today, more than 1,900 qualify. 

Expungement is when the court seals a criminal record. An expunged record is not publicly accessible and would require a court order to reopen the record. Individuals who have had crimes expunged do not have to disclose those crimes except in specific instances outlined in §610.140 RSMo

“This is about finding people in their best, who have been doing really, really well and being able to shed a past criminal history,” said Pierson, with Twible Pearson Criminal Law in Springfield. 

In 2016, the Missouri Legislature passed Senate Bill 588 that significantly expanded the list of crimes that could be expunged, as well as offered additional crimes that could not be expunged. That law went into effect in January 2018. The law was updated a year later under SB 1 to further expand the crimes that could be expunged, and that update took effect in August 2019. Most recently, the Missouri Legislature passed SBs 53 and 60, which took effect on Aug. 28, 2021. The recent changes include the time period for filing a petition, as well as provided minor updates and clarifications.

In general, crimes that are ineligible for expungement included class A felonies; offenses that require individuals to register as sex offenders; felony offenses where death was part of the offense; felony assault offenses; misdemeanor or felony offenses for domestic assault; and felony conviction for kidnapping. There are other crimes that do not fall under these categories that are also ineligible for expungement. The list of crimes that cannot be expunged are outlined in §610.140.2 RSMo

Before someone can file for an expungement, the individual must have paid off his or her fine, completed his or her probation or parole, and have a three-year clean date to be eligible for a felony offense expungement or have a one-year wait to be eligible for a misdemeanor offense, municipal offense, or infraction expungement, under Missouri Law. These two wait periods were shortened on Aug. 28, 2021, after the Missouri Legislature passed SB 53 and 60. Prior to Aug. 28, 2021, individuals had to have a seven-year clean date to be eligible for a felony offense expungement or a three-year wait to be eligible for a misdemeanor offense expungement.

To expunge a crime, an individual must file a petition in the court in the county where the individual was charged or found guilty of any offenses, according to §610.140 RSMo. Click here to download the expungement petition. There is a $250 charge when someone files an expungement petition. The judge may waive the surcharge if the petitioner is indigent and unable to pay the cost. 

In that petition, the individual must name as defendants any entities the petitioner believes may have records regarding the offenses, violations, and infractions outlined in the petition. Once those individuals have been served, §610.140 RSMo states the court “may accept evidence and hear testimony on, and may consider” criteria regarding each listed offense, violation, or infraction. Click here for the list of evidence that may be heard in an expungement court hearing. 

Defendants have 30 days after being served the petition to file objections to the expungement petition, and a court must hold a hearing within 60 days after the filed objection or 30 days after defendants have been served and there were no objections made. 

If the court rules to expunge a conviction, the petitioner can maintain that he or she has not been convicted of the crime that was expunged. However, the “person granted an expungement must disclose any expunged offense when disclosing information” when filling out certain applications, which are outlined under §610.140.9 RSMo

If an expungement petition is denied, the individual could re-file the petition in a year, Pierson said. The petitioner could also appeal the decision. 

Someone could be granted more than one expungement, if that total number does not exceed more than one felony offense and two misdemeanors or ordinance violations that could have resulted in imprisonment. 

Depending on the severity of the crime, the offense could cause issues when someone applies for employment, business loans, student loans, housing, and more, Pierson said. He added there is usually a stigma attached to certain crimes, and expungement allows individuals to have their rights restored. 

Not every crime is worth expunging, depending on the situation, Pierson said. He encouraged anyone interested in expunging an offense to consult a lawyer or his or her local bar association. Use The Missouri Bar’s Lawyer Search to find a lawyer who is accepting new clients.