If you have been convicted of a crime, your conviction is a public record. What does that mean? Well, for starters, potential employers and landlords can do a criminal background search, and they may deny you employment or housing when they see the conviction. What many people don’t know, however, is that anyone can walk into a court clerk’s office and perform a criminal record search on a particular individual.
And it’s getting even easier than that. In the past, a person had to physically walk into a court clerk’s office to perform such a search. Since the birth of the internet, however, any average Joe can use the services of an online criminal background search firm while sitting in his pajamas sipping coffee. Private, for-profit companies gather conviction records from myriad sources, then use them to create databases which can be accessed by any paying customer with a curiosity about someone’s record, or lack thereof.
So, What Shows Up?
If someone performs a criminal background check on an individual, the following information may be revealed:
- Misdemeanor convictions
- Felony convictions
- Court records, including judgments, dockets, and orders
- Sex offenses
- Records of incarceration
Thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), civil suits and arrests will not show up in a criminal background search after the passing of seven years. However, criminal convictions may remain on the report indefinitely. A MA criminal defense attorney can help you protect your rights if you’ve been charged with a crime.
Can My Record be Sealed?
The only way a criminal record can be hidden from public view is through the process of expungement, also known as sealing. When a judge “seals” a criminal conviction, not only is the record no longer public, the individual can answer “No” on any application asking if they have ever been convicted of a crime. That being said, certain individuals and organizations – such as prosecutors and law enforcement agencies – can still view expunged records. And expungement isn’t always an option.
In order to have your record sealed, you and your offense must meet certain requirements. In most cases, it must have been your first offense, a relatively minor offense, you must have completed your sentence, and a period of time must have passed since completing your sentence. To qualify for expungement, your case must meet one of the requirements below:
- Your case was dismissed (you were found not guilty, or the case ended without a conviction).
- Five years have passed since you finished serving your sentence for a misdemeanor offense, and you have not re-offended.
- 10 years have passed since you finished serving your sentence for a felony offense, you have not re-offended, and your conviction was not for “crimes” against the public, violations of the State Ethics Act, certain sex offenses, and certain firearms offenses
- Your conviction was for first-offense misdemeanor drug possession (at the judge’s discretion, these cases may be sealed immediately)