In Tennessee, Expungements (a process which can destroy at least most public records of a criminal charge) are governed in part by Tennessee Code Annotated Sect. 40-32-101, “Destruction or Release of Records.” A lengthy portion of law (spanning 17 pages if you print it from the above-linked site) which was relatively recently changed, even experienced attorneys can find themselves scouring this section of law when nuances of expungement law arise. And so the purpose of this post is four-fold: (1) provide you with the citation to TCA 40-32-101 if you need to scour it in depth (done); (2) provide you with a link to a form Order for Expungement of Criminal Offender Records in Tennessee (http://defendingtennessee.com/online-legal-resources/form-library/online-legal-resources-form-library-tennessee-order-for-the-expungement-of-criminal-offender-record/) (now done); (3) provide when expungements are generally permissible; and (4) deal with a relatively recent (as in Summer of 2012) development in this law that allows for some convictions to be expunged.
To find under which circumstances expungements are generally permissible, we look to TCA 40-32-101(a)(1)(A)(i)-(iii):
40-32-101. Destruction or release of records.
(a)(1)(A) All public records of a person who has been charged with a misdemeanor or a felony shall, upon petition by that person to the court having jurisdiction in the previous action, be removed and destroyed without cost to the person, if:
(i) The charge has been dismissed;
(ii) A no true bill was returned by a grand jury; or
(iii) The person was arrested and released without being charged.
And finally, point 4 above (under the recent development in this law, what convictions can now be expunged), we look to TCA 40-32-101(g). TCA 40-32-101(g) is 9+ pages itself, so the gist of this subsection is that “eligible petitioner[s] may file a petition for expunction of that person’s public records involving a criminal offense if:
(A) Except as provided in subdivision (g)(1)(D), at the time of filing, the person has never been convicted of any criminal offense, including federal offenses and offenses in other states, other than the offense committed for which the petition for expunction is filed; provided, however, that any moving or non-moving traffic offense shall not be considered a criminal offense as used in this subdivision (g)(2)(A);
(B) At the time of the filing of the petition for expunction at least five (5) years have elapsed since the completion of the sentence imposed for the offense;
(C) The person has fulfilled all the requirements of the sentence imposed by the court in which the individual was convicted of the offense . . . .
(emphasis added, TCA 40-32-101(g)(2)(C)(i)-(iv) omitted).
NOTE that to determine whether someone is an “eligible petitioner,” there are 6 pages of statutes telling you crimes that exclude someone from being an eligible petitioner, factors that must be present (or that cannot be present), so on and so forth. Additionally, there are pages of procedures and nuances that must be noted even if someone is potentially an eligible petitioner.
BUT IN SHORT, and to summarize, if a (potential) client asks me if they are eligible for an expungement, my routine intake procedure is to ask: (1) has the charge against the person been dismissed (or never filed); or, (2) if there was a conviction, ask if their record has any other crimes, has at least five (5) years passed, and have they fulfilled all the requirements of the sentence (if they pass those qualifications, THEN I tell them I can look into it for them).