Can I Expunge My Adult Criminal Conviction in Iowa?

Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid LSC Funded
Read this in:
Spanish / Español

Adults and Criminal Records – Not Many Can Expunge an Iowa Criminal Conviction

The State of Iowa’s policy is to keep most criminal records public.  The criminal court docket is online for anyone to see most adult criminal records in Iowa for no cost.  This means that a future employer, landlord, spouse, or neighbor can see any adult’s Iowa criminal record. 

Crimes That Can Be Expunged

Most criminal records cannot be removed from a person’s Iowa criminal history.  However, as of January 1, 2016, a new law provides that, in cases resulting in either a dismissal or acquittal, the court can enter an order expunging the record of the case.  This means that these records will no longer be accessible to the general public.  However, it does not mean that a record of the case will cease to exist completely.  It may remain on a special list available to the court, prosecutors and law enforcement.

The defendant, the prosecutor, or the court itself may request to have this done.  The following conditions must also be met:

  • All court costs and other financial obligations ordered by the court have been paid.
  • A minimum of 180 days has passed since the acquittal or dismissal (the court may waive this requirement if it finds good cause, such as identity theft or mistaken identity).
  • The case was not dismissed due the defendant being found not guilty by reason of insanity.
  • The defendant was not found to be incompetent to stand trial.

The new law will apply to all criminal cases that occurred prior to, on, or after January 1, 2016.  This means that as of the first of the year, persons can file a motion to have their record sealed in a case that occurred before the law went into effect.  Going forward from that date, it will be the job of the court to inform the defendant at the time of the acquittal or dismissal of his or her right to have the record sealed.

      The only two other times the Court would consider expunging a criminal record are if:

  1. The outcome of the case is a “Deferred Judgment” (not a conviction) and the person has successfully completed the terms of the deferment, or
  2. The conviction is for Public intoxication, Consumption, or Underage possession of alcohol and the person has not had any new convictions for at least two years after the conviction.

There are no other alternatives to remove any other type of adult criminal record.  The court cases will continue to appear on the online court docket.  It does not matter how long ago it happened. It does not matter whether it’s a felony or a misdemeanor. 

Completed deferred judgments that do not end in conviction will automatically be put on a private list.  This list can only be seen by Courts, court staff, the department of corrections, county attorney’s office, and law enforcement.  If the completed deferred judgment was from: 

  • After July 1, 2013, it will automatically be placed on a private list. 
  • Before July 1, 2013, the person will need to apply for expungement, placing the record on the private list. 

To get an order expunging the record, a person will have to file a written paper in the court case to ask for an order expunging the record.   If the court does order the expungement, the record of the deferred judgment would be placed on the separate list. 

Governor’s Pardon

A person convicted of a crime can ask the Governor’s office to pardon the crime.  The Governor’s office website has an application form that allows a person to ask for a pardon.  Not many pardons are granted. 

If the Governor issued a pardon, that pardon does not remove the record of that crime.  The only effect of a pardon is a note on the online court docket that shows a pardon was granted.  The criminal record will remain on the online court docket. 

Effect of Criminal Records

Even if your case has been expunged, a record still exists.  It should not be seen by the public, but it does not get erased.  The record will be on a special list available to courts, prosecutors, and law enforcement.  If a person gets a new criminal charge, everyone involved in the criminal case would know about the expunged criminal record.  If a person commits a new crime, the expunged record can cause:

  • A higher level of crime to be charged,
  • A higher level of supervision during and after trial, 
  • A tougher sentence after conviction. 

Having a criminal record makes life very difficult.  It can be hard to find an apartment, get a job, get a loan, and go to college.  These decisions should not be based only on a person’s criminal record.  State and federal rules tell employers and landlords that they must look at many factors when renting or hiring.  But sometimes people don’t follow the rules. 

If you have been denied a lease by a landlord, a job, or admission into a college based only on your criminal record, find out what went into the decision.  Get that in writing if possible.  In some cases, a denial for the criminal record alone could be discrimination.

Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans. 

To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:

  • Call 800-532-1275.
  • Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161.
  • Apply online at
If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer” on the Iowa State Bar Association website   A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.
As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice.

Application to Expunge Court Record:

Video Part 1: A Clean Slate: Everyone Deserves a Fair Chance:

Video Part 2: A Clean Slate: Everyone Deserves a Fair Chance:

Last Review and Update: Mar 14, 2018

Contacting the LiveHelp service...