Wisconsin Expungement Laws in 2024

Wisconsin’s expungement laws haven’t changed much in 2024.  This blog post explains the current state of the law:

Wisconsin’s expungement laws in 2024 haven’t changed much.  Over the last few years, but for a few minor changes in the law, expungement (expunction) functions pretty consistently throughout the state.  And although Wisconsin’s law on wiping away criminal records is more difficult than many states, the law is clear, unambiguous, and easy to understand.  Figuring out which defendants, charges, and situations qualify is not a substantially difficult task.

Van Severen Law Office, S.C. is one of Wisconsin’s best criminal defense law firms.  Our criminal defense attorneys regularly represent individuals facing criminal charges all over the state.  Whenever the law supports it, we advocate for our clients in ways we think increase their chances to have their criminal convictions expunged.  If you have an open case, and are seeking a criminal defense lawyer for representation, contact us at (414) 270-0202.

Importantly, but for a few extreme situations, our firm does not represent individuals who have already been sentenced and are attempting to have an old conviction expunged.  The law simply doesn’t allow many of these charges to be expunged.  We do not offer free consultations for individuals seeking this kind of representation.  Finally, we’d encourage you to be cautious regarding promises from individuals/clinics that your old convictions will be expunged.  In our experience, these situations are often predatory and rely on incorrect or outdated understanding of the law.

Wis. Stat. § 973.015 – Special Dispositions

Wisconsin’s expungement laws are tucked within a general statute called “special dispositions.”  The relevant portion of the statute indicates:

… when a person is under the age of 25 at the time of the commission of an offense for which the person has been found guilty in a court for violation of a law for which the maximum period of imprisonment is 6 years or less, the court may order at the time of sentencing that the record be expunged upon successful completion of the sentence if the court determines the person will benefit and society will not be harmed by this disposition. …
Let’s break this down:
  • Firstly, the defendant must be under 25 at the time of the offense.  This refers to when the criminal act happened.  It is not the charging date, and it is not the sentencing date.  In theory, an individual could be 31 years old (considering a 6 year felony statute of limitations) when they’re charged with a crime and still qualify for expunction.
  • Secondly, the maximum penalty for the offense must be less than 6 years prison.  This includes Class H felonies, Class I felonies, and misdemeanors.
  • Thirdly, the court must determine that the defendant will benefit (of course they will) and society will not be harmed by the expungement of the offense.  Frequently the decision whether to expunge a criminal record hinges on whether society will be harmed.

Upon satisfaction of these three requirements, the sentencing court has the option to grant expunction.  Courts are never required to grant it, even upon a complete satisfaction of the statute.

Which criminal offenses do not qualify for expunction?

The statute prohibits expungement in certain situations.  Wis. Stat. 973.015(1m)(a)(3) states:

(3) No court may order that a record of a conviction for any of the following be expunged:
a. A Class H felony, if the person has, in his or her lifetime, been convicted of a prior felony offense, or if the felony is a violent offense, as defined in s. 301.048 (2) (bm), or is a violation of s. 940.32948.03 (2)(3), or (5) (a) 1.2.3., or 4., or 948.095.
b. A Class I felony, if the person has, in his or her lifetime, been convicted of a prior felony offense, or if the felony is a violent offense, as defined in s. 301.048 (2) (bm), or is a violation of s. 948.23 (1) (a).
Firstly, a Class H felony conviction cannot be expunged if the defendant has a prior felony conviction (regardless of whether that charge was expunged), if the Class H felony is violent, or if it’s a charge for stalking, physical abuse of a child, or sexual assault of a child by a school staff person or a person who works or volunteers with children.
Secondly, a Class I felony conviction cannot be expunged if the defendant has a prior felony conviction (also regardless of whether that charge was expunged), if the Class I felony is for a violent offense, or if the charge is for concealing or not reporting the death of a child.  This list of offenses that cannot be expunged is arbitrary and likely had to do with some politicking.
A person wipes away dirt
The word expunge means to wipe away, strike out, obliterate, or mark for deletion. Sometimes expungement laws can be confusing, which is why we’ve broken the statute down in this post.  

The judge granted the opportunity for expungement and placed me on probation.  What’s next?

You went to sentencing regarding your criminal charge and the judge placed you on probation.  He also granted expunction.  This is great news.  So, what do you need to do next?  Don’t screw up on probation.

Wis. Stat. 973.015(1m)(b) indicates the following:

(b) A person has successfully completed the sentence if the person has not been convicted of a subsequent offense and, if on probation, the probation has not been revoked and the probationer has satisfied the conditions of probation. Upon successful completion of the sentence the detaining or probationary authority shall issue a certificate of discharge which shall be forwarded to the court of record and which shall have the effect of expunging the record. If the person has been imprisoned, the detaining authority shall also forward a copy of the certificate of discharge to the department.

I’m reading the statute, you’re reading the statute, and it seems clear.  But in practice this does not often work out as smoothly as described by the law.  Firstly, you need to successfully complete probation.  If you’re convicted of another subsequent offense or you’re revoked off probation, expunction is no longer available to you.  But if you’re successful, the Department of Corrections (DOC) sends to the court a certificate of discharge.  The court receives this certificate and expunges the charge.

The second step is where things can hit a snag.  Sometimes the DOC does not send over the certificate.  Sometimes it doesn’t get to the court.  And unfortunately sometimes, court officials don’t know what to do with the notification.  If you’ve successfully completed probation, waited 6-9 months, and still not had your conviction expunged, contact the criminal defense attorney you hired for your sentencing for further help.

The criminal defense attorney who handled your sentencing hearing is in the best position to explain expungement laws in 2024.

The criminal defense attorney that represented you at sentencing is in the best position to help you with an expungement.  That attorney was present for the hearing that determined whether it would occur.  He doesn’t need to pull transcripts or other materials to dissect what happened.  Outside counsel will.  Hiring outside counsel will result in more hours worked and a higher bill for you.

Importantly, we think that the best time to fight this battle begins before sentencing.  Getting a prosecutor on board, or even simply digging out large amounts of positive character evidence will likely increase the chances of the judge granting expunction at sentencing.  Contact us if you have an open case and expunction is an important result in your case.  We’ve handled these issues before and have achieved success in many cases.

Finally, you can reach us 24/7 at (414) 270-0202.

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