When you break the law, there are different degrees of punishment for different crimes. More serious crimes are considered felonies. If you are convicted of a felony, it will likely show up in background checks for your whole life.
In the U.S., the types of crimes that are considered felonies vary from state to state. But serious crimes like larceny, robbery, assault, murder or rape are considered felonies in all states. Punishment for these types of crimes usually include jail time and large fines.
Once you are convicted of a felony, it will stay on your record until it is expunged. Though it is relatively easy to get a misdemeanor expunged after a period of time, it is not as easy to get rid of a felony. In fact, in some states you can’t rid of them at all. They are on your record for life. If you are in a state where you can get a felony expunged, you have to pay all your fines, do your jail time (if that was part of your sentence), and stay crime-free for a period of time. Once you are able to prove you are rehabilitated, you can hire a lawyer to present your case to a judge, who will decide if your record can be expunged.
In some cases, accused criminals will plea guilty in court in exchange for a lesser charge and to avoid having a felony on their record. Many first-time offenders are offered these types of deals.
Most companies do background checks on potential employees, so if you do have a felony on your record, don’t lie about it. You will more than likely get caught. Unfortunately, a felony will disqualify you from certain jobs, even if you are completely rehabilitated. For example, you will probably not be able to get a job with any sort of security clearance requirement.
In conclusion, if you are convicted of a felony, it will stay on your record forever unless you are able to get it expunged by a judge. That process will take several years, since you have to demonstrate complete rehabilitation.