I’ve Turned Things Around and My Conviction Kept Me from a Job: What Now?

By: Andrea Mason

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A criminal record can impact your life in many unexpected ways—everything from gun and voting rights to housing and education opportunities.  Often, employment, housing, education, and other civic opportunities can be denied after a background check reveals a criminal record.  I often get questions from people who are stuck in this unfortunate consequence, hoping to find a way to expunge their criminal record.  Essentially, expungement means clearing a conviction from public view, and it is not an easy process.  It does not, however, mean all records of the conviction are gone.

There is no constitutional right to expungement and often it is unavailable.  In most cases, the repercussions of one’s criminal history—limitations on civic opportunities—is a continuing consequence of the conviction.  That is, ongoing punishment.  If you need a state conviction expunged, you must look to your state’s statutes.  States vary widely in their treatment of expungement and variations can include everything from what the mechanism is called, to what is required, to what offenses may be expunged.  Expungement of federal offenses is a topic for another article.

In Iowa, expungement is limited and the State’s policy is to keep most criminal records public.  When expungement is available, it is only in very limited circumstances for certain minor offenses.  Iowa felony convictions are never able to be expunged.  If your past offense does not fall within the narrow categories of offenses which Iowa allows to be expunged, you are out of luck.  It doesn’t matter how long ago it happened, and it doesn’t matter what efforts you have made in your life since the conviction.  In this situation, you may ask the Governor for a pardon.  However, pardons are rarely granted, and a pardon does not remove the record of conviction from the public’s view; it simply notes a pardon was granted.

On January 1, 2016, a new law went into effect, which has broadened Iowa’s otherwise narrow realm of expungement.  If your case resulted in an acquittal (a not guilty verdict) or a dismissal—of all charges—you may be eligible for expungement.  The new law does not apply to traffic tickets, but it is retroactive.  This means it applies to cases which occurred on, before, or after January 1, 2016.  Certain other conditions must also be met:

  1. All charges in the case must result in acquittal or otherwise be dismissed;
  2. All court costs, fees, or other financial obligations ordered by the court or assessed by the clerk of court must have been paid;
  3. At least 180 days must have passed since the case was dismissed or the judgment of acquittal entered, unless the court finds good cause to waive this requirement;
  4. The entry of dismissal or acquittal must not be based on a finding of incompetency to stand trial or not guilty by reason of insanity.

If you think you may be eligible for an expungement, I encourage you to contact an attorney to advise you as to your rights and assist you in the process.

Andrea MasonAndrea practices in Lane & Waterman’s Litigation & Appeals group, focusing on white collar criminal defense, government compliance, and civil litigation. Learn more about her work at