Eligibility for Expunging or Sealing Adult Criminal Records in Tennessee

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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Written By: Jeffrey JohnsonUPDATED: Jul 15, 2021Fact Checked

There are five general conditions for getting your criminal history record expunged in Tennessee. If you were charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, and properly petition the court that had jurisdiction over you when you committed the offense, then all public record of the arrest and charges against you will be removed if any of the following were true:

  1. The charge was dismissed,
  2. A “no true bill” was returned by a grand jury, meaning the grand jury refused to indict you,
  3. A verdict of not guilty was returned, either by a judge in a bench trial or by a jury,
  4. You were arrested and released without being charged, or
  5. A “nolle prosequi” was entered in your case, meaning the attorney general did not pursue the charges against you, and you are petitioning the same court that entered it for expungement.

If you were found guilty, pled guilty, or pled nolo contendere to a non-sexual offense, and have never been convicted of a crime before, then you may be eligible to have proceedings deferred and be placed on probation, without a judgment of guilty being entered against you. Nolo contendere is sometimes referred to as a plea of “no contest,” and means that you do not admit guilt but are willing to accept the punishment for the crime anyway. If you are in this “deferred proceedings” type of situation and you successfully complete the required probation for it, you will still be eligible for expungement. If you are unsure which of the above eligibility requirements may apply to you, consult a local expungement attorney.

Limited Exception for Conviction During Protest of Racially Discriminatory Law

For most crimes in Tennessee, if you were convicted, you are not eligible for expungement. One limited but significant exception to this rule concerns convictions for crimes that were committed while protesting or challenging a racially segregating or discriminating law.

Specifically, you are eligible for expungement if you were charged with and convicted of a misdemeanor or felony while you were protesting or challenging a state law or municipal ordinance that was designed to maintain racial segregation or racial discrimination. If convicted under these circumstances, your expungement will be granted if allof the following are true:

  1. Thirty-seven (37) years or more have elapsed from the date of conviction for the offense being expunged, and you have not been convicted of any other offense since then (except for minor traffic infractions),
  2. Any probation or other period of supervision following the conviction was successfully completed,
  3. The offense was a misdemeanor or a Class C, D, or E felony (or would be,were it committed after November 1, 1989), and
  4. The district attorney general is served a copy of your expungement petition.

Fees for Tennessee Expungement

Getting your record expunged is free in most cases where expungement is allowed. However, if the charge against you was dismissed because you successfully completed a pretrial diversion program, the expungement will cost $100. If you’re applying for expungement after completing an eligible probation program (from a deferred proceeding where a judgment against you was never entered), then your expungement will cost $50.

Traffic Violations

Expungement is available in Tennessee only to those charged with crimes, and not for minor infractions. If you are convicted of a minor traffic violation, like receiving a speeding ticket, you will not be able to use expungement to remove that from your record.

Sexual Offenses

Even if you meet all of the Tennessee expungement eligibility conditions described above, you cannothave your arrest record expunged if you went through a pretrial diversion program for a sexual offense or a violent sexual offense. These offenses include, but are not limited to:

  1. Sexual battery
  2. Statutory rape
  3. Kidnapping
  4. Indecent exposure
  5. Prostitution
  6. Exploitation of a minor
  7. Rape
  8. Incest
  9. Conspiracy, attempt, or aggravated versions of any of the above

Consequences of a Tennessee Expungement

Expungement in Tennessee only applies to public records. By law, this does not include arrest histories, investigative reports, intelligence information of law enforcement agencies, or files of district attorneys that are maintained as confidential records. Law enforcement and court personnel will always be entitled to keep confidential copies of your criminal history record, for federal or state audit purposes, or in case you are arrested in the future, your past record can be used against you as a prior or for sentencing purposes. If your case has any appeals history, note also that the term “public records” does not apply to appellate court records or appellate court opinions. However, none of this data is open to members of the public. Releasing confidential information to anyone other than law enforcement agencies for law enforcement purposes,or to government staff for audit purposes, is a Class A misdemeanor. Of course, copies of your arrest histories and other relevant information may also be released to any attorney of record in your proceeding, if he or she properly requests them. Attorneys are also subject to confidentiality laws.

Remember, you cannothave your criminal history record expunged if you were actually convicted of any offense or charge in the case and the conviction still stands ‘ even if it’s for a lesser included offense or charge.

For more information on Tennessee expungements, see the following articles:

Overview of Tennessee Criminal History Record Expungements

Process for Expunging or Sealing Adult Criminal Records in Tennessee

Expunging or Sealing Juvenile Criminal Records in Tennessee

Do I Need an Attorney to Expunge My Criminal Record in Tennessee?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
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