The decision to seal arrest records cannot be undervalued. Among the most embarrassing moments in many peoples lives, the incentive to prevent employers, landlords, and even potential love interests from learning about your arrest is extremely high.
For many in California, the ability to seal arrest records means the difference between not being hired for your next job opportunity or being denied in a rental application.
The reason arrest records effect so many people is because traditional privacy laws do not provide enough safeguards to those who have been touched by the criminal justice system and very complex system of criminal data management.
Anyone who has been arrested or detained by a citation notice [a ticket instead being booked into jail] can petition the Superior Court in California so long as either the specific statute of limitations has passed or where the interests of justice would be best served.
The statute of limitations is the time period a prosecution agency has to file a criminal complaint after the initiation of arrest. For example: for many misdemeanors, the statute of limitations is one year. On the other hand, the statute of limitations for felonies can be as long as three, five, or even ten years for some crimes.
The Bottom Line: If it has been over one year since your misdemeanor arrest and no charges have been filed, you may be eligible to seal your arrest record. The same goes for a felony arrest; only if it has been at least three years since the arrest.
For those whose arrests are not at least one year old, the law to seal arrest records in California allows you or your attorney to petition the court for an examination that would allow the judge to hear the reasons why your arrest record should be sealed in the interests of justice. This analysis can be complex and typically involves legal theories that mix with knowledge about criminal justice agency procedures. Some cases have a likelihood of being resubmitted to prosecution agencies where formal charges could result after supplemental investigations or witness cooperation. On the other hand, some arrests carry a low percentage of re-investigation.
The Bottom Line: If you have a compelling interest in hiding your arrest from potential background checks or other sources, you may want to consider hiring a lawyer to seal your arrest record.
Many people’s who’s cases are “pending” may be particularly vulnerable if the district attorney’s office is in the midst of deciding when or which charges to file. This time period could stretch from a few weeks to a few months depending on the case complexity and facts.
Some find themselves looking for work while their criminal cases are pending and have little or no knowledge of what the true status of their case is. It’s at this point that the help of a knowledgeable attorney could go a long way.