As an employment attorney, I am frequently asked whether past criminal charges can be expunged under Iowa law. For good reason, too — most employers have some form of screening in place to determine an applicant’s criminal history.
Until recently, Iowa law only permitted expungement in juvenile delinquency cases; certain PAULA (possession of alcohol under the legal age) cases, public intoxication and consumption, and deferred judgments.
On January 1, new Iowa Code Section 901C.1 went into effect, which allows expungement of criminal court records if the charges were dismissed or the defendant was acquitted. The expungement process for these new dismissals and acquittals will be the same as the existing process under Section 907.1 of the Iowa Code.
If a court record is expunged, the clerk of court stores the court records so the public cannot access it. For physical records, the clerk stores them in a secure area; for electronic records, the clerk creates a separate database exempt from public access.
The new law applies to records of a criminal case where acquittal was entered for all criminal charges or where all criminal charges were dismissed (hence, it doesn’t apply to a defendant who beats only some of the charges and pleads or is convicted of others). The records are not automatically expunged – only a court order can do that. Either the defendant or the prosecutor can file the application, or the Court can order expungement on its own motion, but only if all costs, fees, and financial obligations are paid.
While the statute requires a minimum of 180 days pass from the entry of acquittal or dismissal before expungement, this can be waived on a showing of good cause.
Finally, the law applies retroactively to any criminal case that could otherwise be expunged. Now I just need to figure out how to contact all those people who asked me this question through the years …