You can represent yourself on your expungement case. But you shouldn't. If you're considering getting your record expunged but don't think you need a lawyer to do it, this article is for you. Before you dismiss this article as a self-serving business piece of fiction, hear me out.
It is hard to know if you qualify for an expungement.
In a shock to absolutely no one, the expungement law as written by the legislature is clear as mud. There are different statutes used to expunge different types of criminal records, each with their own set of filing, service and evidence requirements. These laws contain thousands of words setting forth dozens of restrictions, caveats, exceptions and legal requirements that all interplay with one another. An attorney can help you sift through all the nonsense and tell you very quickly whether your case qualifies for expungement and, if so, what you need to do to get it done.
Some of the documents you will need to determine eligibility are hard to get.
To confirm that you qualify, you'll want to gather as much documentation about your criminal record as possible. Some of these records are quite old and difficult to get your hands on. Your attorney would know how to request the appropriate records and from whom making the process much easier on you, and faster for everyone involved.
The judge could deny your expungement even if you qualify under the law.
Just technically qualifying for an expungement under the law alone is not enough to get one. The judge must also make a finding on the court record that 1.) your habits and conduct demonstrate that you are not a threat to the public safety of the state and 2.) the expungement is consistent with the public welfare and 3.) the interests of justice warrant the expungement. These two findings are completely "discretionary" for the judge which means he could deny your expungement if he doesn't believe it is warranted.
A lawyer can help you frame your specific reasoning for deserving and needing the expungement. Your lawyer most likely will have appeared in front of your judge before and can help you present your case to that judge in way that makes it most likely your expungement will be granted.
The other side will be represented by an attorney.
If your expungement is contested by one of the other parties, they will have attorneys present at the hearing to argue to the judge that you either do not qualify for, or do not deserve an expungement. If that is the case, it would be in your best interest to have an attorney of your own there to help. Your attorney will prevent you from being surprised by another party's objections at court on your hearing date, anticipate those objections and formulate a plan to overcome them.
An attorney will save you a ton of time and stress.
Your time is too valuable to spend hours upon hours doing all the necessary leg work on your expungement. On your own, you will waste weeks determining whether you qualify, tracking down court documents and learning how to draft a petition, file it according to the specific court procedures of your county, and serve it on the other parties. Those weeks are undoubtedly better spent doing almost literally anything else.
The fees attorney's charge for expungements are reasonable and take a tremendous amount of work and stress of your shoulders. When you have an attorney do your expungement, the process is pretty easy for you. Once you provide your expungement lawyer with the required information about you, your current life and your past criminal record, they will handle everything from there. They will draft your petition for you to sign, file the petition in the appropriate court with all necessary supporting documentation, obtain a hearing date, serve all the other parties with your petition and prepare your evidence for your hearing.
If the judge denies your expungement, you'll have to wait one year before you can try again.
When you file your expungement, you want to make sure that it is done correctly. Under the expungement law, if your expungement petition is dismissed by the court, you may not file another petition until a year has passed since the date you filed your first petition. If you are unsure what you're doing, its best to not just take a wild guess at it since there are repercussions for getting it wrong. An expungement attorney will help you make sure that everything is done correctly the first time so that you don't risk a dismissal and a one year ban on refiling.