Whether it’s to a graduate school, landlord or new employer, at some point in your life you will probably have to discuss your criminal record. Needless to say, any kind of criminal record could have a negative impact on your future plans. Colorado law allows you to hide certain Colorado criminal record information from the public under state law through expungement or sealing if you meet certain requirements. (NOTE: expungement or sealing under Colorado law is effective under state law ONLY; it is not effective under Federal law.)
Expungement is available in Colorado for many types of juvenile records. Even juvenile "convictions" (actually called adjudications) can be expunged if the criteria are met. Expungement can also apply to Underage Drinking and Driving convictions, even if a person was between 18 and 21 years old at the time of the offense. However, some cases cannot be expunged, such as those where juveniles were adjudicated for sex offenses or very violent crimes.
Sealing is the "adult" method of hiding criminal records in Colorado. It is generally available for criminal records that are not associated with a conviction: for example, when all charges filed in a case were dismissed or when an investigation was conducted but no charges were filed. There are, however, a few exceptions to this rule. Some cases, like traffic infraction cases or cases in which there were Deferred Judgments and Sentences on sex offense or DUI/DWAI charges, can never be sealed even if no convictions are associated with them. Other cases can be sealed even though there are convictions associated with them; examples are underage drinking (MIP), municipal offense, petty offense and certain drug cases. A person must usually wait a long period of time before he or she can ask the court to seal his or her conviction records; the length of the waiting period depends on the type of case and any agreement made with the prosecutor. A person must also sometimes wait to seal records related to dismissed cases or investigations that did not result in charges.
There are numerous requirements for both expungements and sealings and they are strictly enforced. If you do not fulfill those requirements, your request to hide your criminal record information will be denied. Under some circumstances, the court must either grant or deny expungement or sealing; under others, the court has discretion. You should know that, if your request to hide records is denied for some reason, you generally must wait a long period of time before you will be allowed to make the request again. You should also know that it can take several months to go through the process of asking the court to hide your records.
Under the law in Colorado, a person can deny that he or she has criminal justice records if those records are expunged or sealed; however, neither expungement nor sealing make criminal records disappear. Law enforcement, courts and the Federal government will always have access to the records, and some private businesses like those that contract with the Department of Defense will have access as well. In addition, private businesses such as news agencies that had information about your records before the records were expunged or sealed cannot be forced to give the information back or take the information off of their websites. Depending on who is asking about your criminal records, there are situations in which you will want to disclose expunged or sealed information anyway to prevent yourself from looking like a liar or being accused of misrepresentation or, even worse, committing a crime.
Expunging or sealing records is a very detail-oriented process and, if you don’t do it properly, you may as well not have bothered trying. We can help you understand the process and, if your criminal records are in Boulder County, you can hire us to represent you through it. Note that Student Legal Services represents clients on expungements and sealings in Boulder County only. We provide one-time consultations for expungements and sealings in other jurisdictions.