Arrest information is available to the public which includes potential employers and schools, as well as financial institutions and law enforcement agencies. One’s history of arrest or criminal record can be accessed by anyone at any time. Criminal background checks are increasingly more common and having an arrest or criminal record on file can damage one’s professional and even personal life.
It is possible to erase the existence of one’s arrest history through criminal records expunction, a process in which the information regarding the arrest is removed from the public record as well as your own personal criminal record and is treated by the courts as if it never happened.
Each state has their own set of laws determining who is eligible for expungement as well as which offenses are to be included. For example, in the state of Texas, people who have been charged with a misdemeanor or felony offense, but found not guilty or the charge was dismissed, outright are eligible for an expunction of their criminal records.
People who were arrested but not charged or the charge was reduced from a misdemeanor or felony offense to a Class C Misdemeanor Offense also qualify for criminal records expunction, as well as those who have completed deferred adjudication or deferred disposition for a Class C Misdemeanor charge.
In New York, there are almost no laws that grant criminal record expungement in full, and instead use a process called “sealing,” in which the record still exists with limited access, while most of the evidence is either destroyed or returned. Many states use this method, which often allows the record to still be accessed by law enforcement agencies.
Through criminal record expunction, one’s criminal record and history of arrest is thoroughly deleted and any distribution of the expunged records is considered a criminal offense, including use by law enforcement agencies or the court system. In the state of Texas, it is possible to file a Petition for Nondisclosure or Records if one does not qualify for an Expunction Order, in which case the records will be removed from the public record but not destroyed.
In many states, sealing is the only option for most cases outside of extremely special exceptions, which generally involve juvenile or marijuana related cases.
While an Expunction Order calls for the courts to treat the arrest or criminal charge as though nothing transpired, it cannot call for the removal of the record from the press or the internet without additional measures taken. An Expunction Order is unable to guarantee the removal from records outside of the legal jurisdiction.
Although one's history of arrest and criminal record is available for the public to access, it is possible in most states depending on the charge, to hide the information from the public through record sealing or in some cases, deleting the record altogether through record expunction.