“Not Guilty” is Not Enough When it Comes to Your Criminal Record

When someone is arrested and charged with a crime, they go through an extensive booking process. We’re all familiar with the concept of being “booked” by which the arresting authority takes the arrestee’s photograph, fingerprints, and biographical information about the person. But what exactly do they do with it, and how does it affect that person in the future, after the case is closed?

All of this information, along with the details of the arrest and criminal charges, is then entered into various governmental databases, including the clerk of court in the arresting jurisdiction, state criminal databases, and the National Crime Information Center database operated by the FBI in Washington, D.C. And at various times throughout the pendency of the case, the records are updated to reflect matters which occur, including the final disposition. Most of these databases are public record, and open to whomever wants to search them.

So what happens to this record if the charges against you are dropped by the prosecutor, the case is dismissed by the judge, or you are acquitted of the crime?

Most people would assume that, by virtue of the fact that they were not convicted of a crime, their record would be clean. Most people would be wrong. Even if you are not convicted of a crime for which you were arrested and charged, the record of your arrest and the criminal charges against you will remain in all of these databases.

Imagine if a job opportunity came down to you and one other candidate, and the employer searches your criminal records. Yours shows an arrest and no conviction, while the other candidate’s record is totally clean. Do you imagine that the employer will choose you over the second applicant? Perception is everything, and unfortunately there are not many people who will look past a criminal record, even without a conviction.

The fact is, you can be completely innocent of a crime, exonerated through clear and convincing evidence that perhaps there was a misunderstanding or a case of mistaken identity, but if you don’t take action following your non-conviction, that arrest can absolutely continue to haunt you throughout your life.

Thankfully, there are steps that a knowledgeable defense attorney can take, however, to remedy this issue. In many states, you may be able to seal or expunge your record, depending on the circumstances and whether or not you qualify.

Sealing your record makes it inaccessible to the public and disallows authorities from distributing the record to anyone, while expunging your record results in the actual destruction of physical and digital records of your arrest and charges. Once a Court orders the records sealed or expunged, you can then legally deny ever having been arrested. You read that correctly – you do not have to disclose the arrest on a job application, school application or in response to a valid inquiry. It is as if the arrest never even occurred.

There are certain circumstances that can disqualify candidates from expunction or sealing even if they were innocent of their crime, such as having been previously convicted of a crime, so it is important that you seek out the services of a skilled defense attorney to analyze your situation and help you seal or expunge your record if it is possible.

Keep in mind, these are one-time remedies, and you need to move quickly to take action following a dismissal or acquittal so that the digital record of your arrest and the criminal charges will be destroyed before they can be sold to private companies that purchase the records and make them available. Expunging or sealing your record with government authorities will have no impact on these private databases.

Of course, as with most laws, there are exceptions to the right of non-disclosure, which are beyond the scope of this blog article. Be sure to fully discuss any exceptions which may apply to your individual situation with an attorney.

If you have been charged with and acquitted of a crime, or you were arrested and the charges were dropped or dismissed, contact the law offices of Barry M. Wax today to learn whether or not you may qualify to have your record expunged or sealed.

Law Offices of Barry M. Wax