Whether one is arrested, charged, acquitted, convicted, or has an outstanding warrant, the courts and law enforcement are almost certain to keep and maintain a record of that incident. Even those who have had their convictions set-aside under the District of Columbia’s Youth Rehabilitation Act still have a record showing the initial arrest, and would have to take additional steps to seal the record of the arrest. Further, those records are typically public information and employers, volunteer groups, credit bureaus, etc. can easily access such records. Persons with criminal records often face a number of serious consequences that can stand as barriers to employment and housing opportunities, public benefits, educational financial aid and more.
A 2006 study by the Society for Human Resource Management showed that 80 percent of mid-size to large employers check the criminal backgrounds of employment applicants. However when criminal records are judicially sealed, most employers will not have access to such records, and applicants whose records have been judicially sealed may not have to disclose that they have a criminal record, in most instances. A number of jurisdictions throughout the US including the District have passed legislation that allows a person to seal their criminal records.
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The Record Sealing Act
The Council of the District of Columbia has offered some relief to persons with a criminal record by passing the Criminal Record Sealing Act of 2006. The law allows persons with eligible arrests and convictions to petition the Court to seal some or all of their criminal record.
In the past, the court would order a person’s record sealed only if the case was somehow dismissed before trial, only if the person requested sealing within strict and short time limits, and only if the person could prove s/he was innocent of the crime for which s/he was arrested. Under the Criminal Record Sealing Act, a person may still request the court to seal his/her record but there are no time limits for filing and the person may file for any case that did not result in a conviction, such as an acquittal after trial. The law now goes farther and allows persons to try to seal their records without regard to their innocence—either because they cannot prove they are innocent or because they are not innocent. Certain convictions are now also eligible for sealing. While the extent of a person’s record and the basic facts of the case to be sealed might be factors a judge considers when deciding whether to order someone’s record sealed, the judge’s decision should be based more on what the person has done with his life since his involvement with the criminal justice system and what the person hopes to do with his life if his record is sealed. The non-innocence part of the Criminal Record Sealing Act has a number of conditions and restrictions and a number of people will only be able to seal part of their record or will not be eligible to seal any of their record. A close reading of the law and an examination of a person’s full criminal record, in DC and elsewhere, is necessary to determine eligibility.
How can PDS help you
The Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia (PDS) has prepared a self-help package with sample and actual filing documents and forms that allows a person to fill-out and file their motions on their own. The package also includes a very detailed information guide that gives step-by-step instructions on how to gather police or court reports you might need to file, how to fill out and file your motion, and that will answer your questions about what it means to have your record sealed under the different provisions of the law and how the law allows you to answer employers and others who ask about whether you have a criminal record.
You can obtain these materials and consult with an attorney about whether you are eligible to seal your record by walk-in at 633 Indiana Avenue, NW, 9:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m., Monday - Friday (ask for the duty day attorney), or walk-in at PDS’ Community Defender Division at 680 Rhode Island Avenue NE, Suite H-5 on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm.You can also reach the PDS by telephone at (202) 628-1200, (800) 341-2582 (ask for the duty day attorney) or (202) 824-2801 (ask for the Community Reentry Program). If you want legal advice about your eligibility, try to bring with you any documentation you have about your criminal record, such as a court print-out or a police clearance form.
PDS can provide assistance and information regarding the forms, filing etc., but we do not provide representation for record sealing cases. We will not act as your lawyer and file the motions for you. PDS does not charge for the self-help package nor does it charge for the legal assistance. If you choose to file a sworn affidavit with your motion, PDS even has notaries public on staff who will not charge a fee for notarizing your statement. Also, the court does not charge a fee for filing a motion. Unless you choose to hire a private lawyer, the only cost to you of trying to seal your record would be the cost of making copies of your motion for your records and to deliver it to the prosecutor.
For additional information on record sealing and related matters in the District of Columbia
you can visit Lawhelp.org/dc.