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How to Check Your Criminal Record?
Knowledge is power. If you have a criminal record, knowing all of the details of it can put you on the best footing to answer questions about it at crucial times. You may be asked about your criminal record when you apply for a job, volunteer for an organization, seek public housing assistance, try to adopt a child, visit a bank for a loan or mortgage, or to join the military.
What Goes on Criminal Record?
A criminal record may include the following:
- nolle prosequi cases that the district attorney declined to pursue
- pending charges
Almost one-third of American adults has a criminal record, so it’s not always a barrier to opportunities. Oftentimes there’s a chance to explain the circumstances, or even to expunge a nonviolent crime from your permanent record, if you have all of the information available. Accessing your criminal record ahead of a potential employer or other person screening applicants also allows you time to correct any errors on your record. The latter is crucial to presenting the best possible face you can and overcoming any black marks on your reputation.
Criminal records are public documents in the United States. Anyone can see your criminal record if they know where to look. Sometimes an arrest record will show up in a Google search, but unless your crime or trial was particularly memorable and was published by a news source, an individual looking for your criminal record will have to do some work to find it.
How to Get Your Criminal Record?
Step one should be to access all of your potential criminal records. Contact the clerk of courts in the jurisdictions where you have been arrested or tried in court -- or search that court’s database online. Many jobs require a criminal background check that is confirmed by a fingerprint in addition to a name, social security number, and birthdate. The fingerprint allows a search of federal databases maintained by the F.B.I.
Search your name online as well. Many websites scrape police press releases and announcements to collect arrest information. If a website has erroneous information about you or continues to report a conviction that you’ve had expunged you should contact them to get your information removed. Many states now have laws that govern the removal of such damaging information and forbid charging a fee to have it erased.
Check for Errors
Recordkeeping errors are not uncommon, particularly considering the volume of trials and hearings that the court system handles. If you find an error or something missing from your record, notify the office in charge of the records. Ensure that your criminal record shows that you completed all of the court-ordered treatment, classes, or probation time that was ordered. Sometimes the completion of a drug treatment course or other diversion program is a first step in getting a conviction vacated and the record erased (there may be a fee required).
If you were a victim of domestic abuse or human trafficking you may be able to get certain convictions expunged from your record. Also check for any appearance of juvenile offenses mentioned in your permanent record. All juvenile records should be confidential unless the person was tried as an adult.
Many states allow you to seal your criminal record if the offense was a misdemeanor or nonviolent felony and a specific period of time has elapsed. California will automatically start reducing the number of minor criminal records available to the public starting in 2021. The following states automatically seal nonviolent convictions after seven years: New York, California, Massachusetts, Montana, Kansas, New Hampshire, Maryland, and Washington. Unfortunately the Fair Credit Reporting Act allows criminal record information to be retained as part of your long-term credit record despite these “sunset” provisions, keeping the information accessible to landlords and others. Fortunately, it’s becoming more common for states to close access to minor infractions on criminal records, like Pennsylvania’s new law that clears arrests that do not result in convictions.
Arrest VS Conviction
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) suggests that prospective employers disregard any record of arrests that did not result in conviction but that guideline is not a law. Still, you have some options if arrests show up on your criminal record. If an arrest was made in error, you may seek to have records of it removed by the police or clerk of courts (depending upon where the record resides). States like Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, and Delaware automatically seal or expunge non-conviction arrest records. In addition, there are limits to what a potential employer, a school admissions officer, and others may ask about in an initial application – but if a criminal record is directly related to the job or application at hand (such as a person with a history of child sexual assault trying to get a job at a daycare center) the information will always be applicable.
Misdemeanor VS Felony
Most applications and criminal records checks are concerned with felony records, which reflect serious crimes. Misdemeanors are those less-significant incidents that are punishable by a year or less in the county jail – and often result in nothing more than a form of restitution, such as community service, for those who are not habitual offenders.
Reparative justice is a new term that means allowing a person with a criminal record to return to normal life, and it’s becoming more popular with state lawmakers who see institutionalized poverty among those haunted by criminal records. In many states that have recently decriminalized the possession of a small amount of marijuana, residents with past convictions for such possession may have their records expunged. In order to reduce the burden on offices processing criminal records requests, many states have now created ways to reduce the charges on their conviction records. Once a person has served his sentence and a specific grace period has elapsed without another charge, it is now possible to get a felony conviction converted to a misdemeanor.
If you want to get a portion of your record expunged or sealed, check the applicable state laws. Some states should do so automatically while others may still require a formal petition and fee paid.