Author: Attorney Marcus J. Berghahn
We’re regularly contacted by people who want to know whether their criminal conviction can be expunged. Only criminal convictions can be expunged. Wisconsin law does not provide for expungement of non-criminal convictions, like traffic or ordinance violations.
A very good resource on expungement in Wisconsin was published by the Wisconsin State Law Library. It’s available here:
To qualify for expungement under Wis. Stat. § 973.015(1m)(a)1. the person must be under the age of 25 at the time of the commission of the offense, and the maximum period of imprisonment for that offense is six years or less (i.e., a class H felony or lower). The court must find that the person will benefit and society will not be harmed by this disposition.
For convictions entered in adult court, to be eligible for expungement, the court must at the time of sentencing make findings that expungement should occur. If those findings are not made, then the conviction cannot be expunged. It’s not possible to seek expungement after the sentence has been completed. Courts often condition expungement on the successful completion of the sentence. A recent decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court held that any violation of either the judge’s or Department of Corrections’ conditions derails expungement—even if the judge or the Department of Corrections ultimately concludes that the offender successfully completed probation.
A delinquency adjudication in juvenile court is an exception. There, expungement may be requested after the disposition is completed. Wis. Stat. § 939.355(4m)(a) provides that a juvenile, on attaining 17 years of age, may petition the court to expunge the record of the juvenile’s adjudication. The court may expunge the record if the court determines that the juvenile has satisfactorily complied with the conditions of his or her dispositional order and that the juvenile will benefit from, and society will not be harmed by, the expungement.
Notably, expungement does not invalidate the conviction—it deletes the evidence of the underlying conviction from court records. That is, it removes it from public view. Expungement is not vacatur, which invalidates the conviction. See State v. Braunschweig, 2018 WI 113, ¶¶ 21-22, 384 Wis. 2d 742, 755-56, 921 N.W.2d 199, 205-06 (Vacatur, unlike expunction, removes the fact of conviction. A vacated conviction, unlike expunction, does not result in a court record being hidden from public view nor are court records destroyed because of a vacated conviction.).