1. Home
  2.  » 
  3. Criminal Law
  4.  » What is the difference between a dismissal and an expungement?

What is the difference between a dismissal and an expungement?

On Behalf of | May 23, 2024 | Criminal Law |

Navigating the criminal justice system can be confusing, especially when it comes to understanding legal terms like “dismissal” and “expungement.”

Both terms relate to the status of a criminal charge, but they have distinct meanings and implications.


According to the  Mississippi Center for Justice, nearly a third of the adult population has a criminal record. A dismissal occurs when the court decides to end a case before it goes to trial or reaches a verdict. This decision means that the court drops the charges against the defendant. There are various reasons why a court might dismiss a case. Sometimes, the prosecution lacks sufficient evidence to prove the defendant’s guilt. Other times, procedural errors during the investigation or arrest can lead to a dismissal. When the court dismisses a case, it means that, in the eyes of the law, the defendant does not have a conviction for that particular charge.

However, a dismissal does not erase the arrest or charge from a person’s record. This can still impact the person’s future opportunities, such as employment or housing applications.


Expungement is the legal process of sealing or erasing a criminal record from public view. When a court grants an expungement, the record of the arrest, charges and any other related events no longer appear in most background checks. The person with the expunged record can legally state that the incident never happened in most situations.

Expungement can offer a fresh start, but it is not available for all types of offenses. The eligibility for expungement depends on factors such as the nature of the crime, the time since the incident and whether the individual has completed all the terms of their sentence, including probation or fines. Generally, minor offenses, first-time offenses or cases where the court dismisses the charges are more likely to qualify for expungement.

When facing a criminal charge, it is important to understand the difference between a dismissal and an expungement.