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How to Clear a Criminal Record

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A summary criminal history, more commonly known as a criminal record or a rap sheet, is a list of arrests and convictions. This document will follow a person for the rest of their lives, and while it may not seem like a big deal, it can be. The presence of a criminal record can be life-altering. There are steps you can take to erase or seal your record. Here is what you need to know about the different options available.

Available Options

When it comes to clearing your criminal record, you have two options. You can have the records sealed or expunged, depending on the information in your record. The laws surrounding both options vary significantly by state and even by jurisdiction. It is wise to consult a lawyer who understands the particulars and understands how to proceed. Continue reading to learn more about your options regarding how to handle a criminal record.

What is a Criminal Record

A criminal record documents arrests and criminal prosecution, as well as convictions. Information typically found in a criminal file include:

  • Dates and times of arrests and the charges
  • Mugshots and fingerprints
  • If the charges were dropped
  • The outcome of the trial, if applicable
  • The sentence if found guilty

Essentially, a criminal record documents everything that happens from the time an arrest is made until the situation is resolved. You can request a copy of your criminal record; however, the process differs from one state to another, and fees may apply. Usually, you can only request a criminal record for yourself. It is generally not possible to request a criminal record for another person.

A criminal record is always there, and it can follow you, and this is an issue for many people. Most applications for colleges, trade schools, jobs, and even lease agreements will likely ask if you have a criminal record or conviction.

Who Can View a Criminal Record

While a potential employer or landlord can ask if you have ever been arrested or convicted of a crime on an application, most cannot view a criminal record. However, some people do have access to view criminal records. The people who can generally view criminal records include:

  • Government employers, including city and state agencies
  • Public utilities
  • Schools or eldercare facilities
  • Organizations that issue licenses or certifications, like a state bar association or a state liquor authority
  • Law enforcement personnel

Employers can conduct a general background check that includes references to arrests and convictions but will not provide the level of detail found in a criminal record. Most states have laws preventing employers from making decisions around employment based on a criminal record.

Sealing Records

When records are sealed, no one can view the documents without a court order. The records still exist, but they are not as easily accessible. For instance, if a potential employer or law enforcement runs a check, they will see that a record is there, but they will not be able to access the information without first obtaining a court order. Criminal records belonging to juveniles are customarily sealed and, depending on the state, will not appear in background checks.

Not all criminal records can be sealed. Generally, misdemeanor convictions and some felony convictions can be sealed. Any conviction that requires an individual to register as a sex offender cannot be sealed.

Expunging Records 

An expungement is also an option. An expungement is a legal process of having a criminal file removed from the public record. A record no longer exists after being expunged, so if someone who would typically have access to criminal files searches, nothing will show up. If a prospective employer or landlord runs a background check, it will not result in any expunged information results.

Typically, cases that were dismissed or reached deferred disposition are eligible for expungement. If the probationary period requirements were fulfilled before a conviction or sentencing, the matter could be expunged. Not all offenses can be expunged, and the process varies significantly in each state.

Several factors can increase the likelihood of expungement, including:

  • The amount of time that has passed since the criminal case was concluded
  • No prior criminal history or limited prior criminal history
  • No further criminal activity since the conclusion of the case
  • No other convictions for serious felonies
  • Completion of all sentencing requirements, including probation or parole

How to Expunge Records

Only the person named in a criminal record can petition to have information expunged. The petition usually must be filed in the same court where the case took place. Only one case can be expunged at a time, so if you wish to erase multiple cases, you have to do so one at a time. Many states are implementing ‘clean slate’ laws to simplify sealing or expunging criminal records.

A Fresh Start

You may feel like your past is looming over you, but you have options when it comes to clearing your criminal record. Each case is unique, and the procedure is very different for each state, so working with a lawyer can make the entire process flow much more efficiently.

More on this topic:

5 Things To Remember Before You Hire A Criminal Lawyer

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