Guide to Expungements in Tennessee

Expungement is a court-ordered process where the legal record of some criminal cases can be erased in the eyes of the law. In Tennessee, only certain criminal records can be expunged. Some cases can be expunged without any fees. If you are unsure about your situation, it’s best to talk to a lawyer for help.

Are you Eligible for Expungement?

You may be eligible for free expungement in Tennessee if:

  • You had charges against you dismissed
  • A “no true bill” was returned by a grand jury
  • You were arrested and released without being charged
  • You went to trial, which resulted in a not guilty verdict
  • The case resulted in a nolle prosequi (prosecution will not be pursued).
  • An order of protection was successfully defended and denied by a court following a hearing

Steps for Expungement in Tennessee

If you qualify for an expungement for any of the reasons listed above, you will need to file for expungement in the court in which the matter originated. This may be general sessions court or a trial court. Not all courts operate exactly the same, but the following steps outline the process generally.

You need the information (docket #, etc.) regarding the case. This information is required to get an expungement. You may want to obtain a copy of your record from the court clerk if you do not have a copy.

For charges that are marked as “dismissed” or “nollied”, follow the steps below.  If the charges were dismissed “with costs” or they were “retired”, there are additional steps you have to take to get your record expunged (see below).

  • File a request with the court where your case originated (see here and here for examples of forms you can use). Check with the court clerk because you may have to fill out separate forms for multiple charges.  
  • Indicate the charges that qualify for expungement (see above).  File the information with the criminal court clerk. You do not need to appear in court.
  • If you want a copy of the expungement, bring a self-addressed stamped envelope for each charge that you want to get expunged. For example, if there are 4 charges you want expunged, you need to bring 4 self-addressed stamped envelopes.This will allow the clerk to send you the paperwork after the expungement is complete.
  • Ask the criminal court clerk for a certified copy of the order(s) expunging your record and a certified copy of the charging document.  These are the documents that the clerk will mail to you in the envelope(s) you brought. 
  • Your paperwork will then be sent to the judge and forwarded to the proper agencies for expungement.

If your record says a charge was “dismissed with costs”, that means that there are court costs that you owe.  You have to take care of the court costs before you can have your record expunged.  You may be able to get them waived. 

If your record says a charge was “retired”, that means that the case was put on hold for a very long time.  You have to request that the retired case be changed to a dismissed case before you can get that charge expunged.

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