Overview of Tennessee Criminal History Record Expungements

In Tennessee, expunging a criminal record is a straightforward process, but for most cases, you must meet certain criteria to be eligible for a Tennessee expungement. According to Tennessee law, a person charged with a misdemeanor or felony may petition the court for an expungement of that record if any of the following is true for that specific charge:

  1. The charge was dismissed,
  2. A "no true bill" was returned by a grand jury, meaning that the grand jury refused to indict the person,
  3. A verdict of not guilty was returned,
  4. The person was arrested and released without being charged, or
  5. A "nolle prosequi" was entered against that person, meaning that the attorney general or prosecutor declined to prosecute.

You cannot have a conviction expunged in Tennessee, except under very limited circumstances. See our article Eligibility for Expunging or Sealing Adult Criminal Records in Tennessee for more on the expungement process. 

Tennessee expungement results in any references to your criminal charges being cleared up and any court files on those charges being sealed. The result is that it will appear on your record as if you were never charged with the specific offense at issue.

The key is that the expungement refers to your public records. While evidence of the charge against you may remain available in some circumstances to be viewed by judges and investigators, nothing will show up on your record when a member of the public does a criminal background check on you. Thus, expungement is a very useful tool for anyone applying for jobs or trying to pursue education who has been arrested or charged with a crime.

However, the courts and law enforcement personnel will have access to the record; the facts and circumstances surrounding the prior charge will remain on file in confidential law enforcement records to be examined as needed. This might come into play if, for instance, you become involved in other legal proceedings and your character or credibility in court proceedings is at issue.

In Tennessee, you can generally have your criminal history record expunged free of charge, unless you took part in a judicial diversion program of some kind.

Be aware that in Tennessee, the terms expungement, sealing, and expunction are sometimes used interchangeably. Generally, "expunction" is the term used in the statutes themselves, while "expungement" and "sealing" are used more popularly throughout the United States. What matters is that in Tennessee, these terms all refer to the same process, have the same eligibility requirements, and result in the same thing: the removal of your criminal history record from public view. We will use the terms "expungement" and "sealing" interchangeably, because these are the terms you are most likely to hear when this legal tool is discussed.

For more information on Tennessee expungements, see the following articles:

Eligibility for Expunging or Sealing Adult Criminal Records in Tennessee

Process for Expunging or Sealing Adult Criminal Records in Tennessee

Expunging or Sealing Juvenile Criminal Records in Tennessee

Do I Need an Attorney to Expunge My Criminal Record in Tennessee?