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Expungement is a necessary remedy for people to successfully move past criminal convictions and remain positive members of society. Tennessee’s recent expansion of expungement law takes the remedy beyond the correction of state mistakes or misconduct to instead afford a proactive relief from the stigma of a conviction for nonviolent, nonsexual criminal misdemeanors and low-level felonies. Sponsored by Rep. Karen D. Camper, D-Memphis, Tennessee House Bill 2865 amends Tennessee Statute 40-32-101 to open expungement relief to deserving first-time offenders. The law will go into effect on July 1, 2012.


A study by the Society for Human Resource Management shows that over 80 percent of employers conduct background checks on potential job applicants. The practical effect of these widespread background checks is that employers and landlords are able to deny employment and housing based on a conviction that, often times, has nothing to do with a person’s suitability to be an employee or tenant. Expungement offers a sound form of relief that not only acknowledges members of society with convictions should not have their past unjustly revisited at every opportunity, but also acknowledges public policy considerations that decrease the burden on taxpayers and greatly reduce criminal recidivism.


Tennessee does not classify all offenses as eligible for expungement or make the category overly broad. In order to petition the court for an expungement, the petitioner must first meet a mandatory five-year waiting period after completing his or her sentence. Only persons who committed a non-violent, non-sexual misdemeanor or a class E felony are eligible. Violent or sexually based misdemeanors are never eligible for expungement. Additionally, the conviction to be expunged must be that person’s only conviction, whether in Tennessee or any other jurisdiction. Finally, a conviction is not eligible for expungement if it received a sentence with greater than three years incarceration.


Expungement is not available for all misdemeanors. Notably, domestic violence misdemeanors or DUI-related offenses may not be expunged.

Written by Matthew Slezak

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