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DC Sealed Records Lawyer

Under some circumstances, the District of Columbia allows for the sealing of arrests (and certain convictions) on a criminal record [D.C. Code Sections 16-802 to -803].  This allows those charged or convicted of some crimes in DC to make a fresh start.

Since the passage of the Re-entry Facilitation Amendment Act of 2012, an individual’s access to his or her DC arrest history is now easier for the purposes of determining eligibility to seal or expunge a criminal record, Also, the waiting periods to file motions to seal pursuant to D.C. Code Section 16-803 are shorter. However, the process is still rather complicated, and those who wish to benefit from this process are best served by retaining an experienced DC sealed records lawyer to manage this complicated process.

What “Sealed” Really Means

Some use the terms “expungement,” which suggests that records are destroyed, and “sealed” interchangeably. Unfortunately, that comparison is not proper in DC. Most record sealing motions simply prevent unauthorized parties, such as employers and other members of the public, from accessing those records. Courts and law enforcement agencies can still access them. However, a successful actual innocence motion results in the destruction of all records related to your case, except for a hidden file kept at DC Superior Court that only the defendant or defendant’s authorized representative have access to.

Sealing an Arrest Record on Innocence Grounds

The most complete and final way to seal all records related to a criminal non-conviction is to file a successful “actual innocence” motion pursuant to D.C. Code.

Defendants whose misdemeanor or felony cases end in non-conviction become eligible to file an actual innocence motion the same day. In some circumstances, it may make sense to wait a few weeks or months before filing. However, most defendants benefit from filing the motion within four years of the dismissal of his or her case. This is because the standard by which the defendant must prove innocence rises from “a preponderance of the evidence” (i.e., more likely than not) to “clear and convincing evidence” (i.e. very likely, approaching beyond a reasonable doubt).

Sealing An Arrest Record In The Interest of Justice

Defendants who cannot prove innocence may still be eligible to seal their records by proving it is in the interest of justice to prevent the public from accessing them [D.C. Code Section 16-803]. The motion requires balancing the interests of the public, including potential employers, in knowing the movant has a criminal record, the interests of the movant in sealing his or her record, and the interests of the community in assisting the movant’s rehabilitation. However as a DC sealed records lawyer can explain, unlike motions filed on innocence grounds, even some defendant’s convicted of a crime may file an interest of justice motion. However, the laxer eligibility requirements come at a price—movant’s must generally wait two to eight years before filing an interest of justice motion.

The waiting period varies from case to case depending on what offense the movant was alleged to have committed and how the movant’s case ended. For example, D.C. Code Section 16-801 contains a list of “ineligible misdemeanors.” Any person arrested but not charged with one of those offenses must wait three years from the conclusion of the person’s case before filing an interest of justice motion. If that same person was arrested and charged but not convicted, the waiting period is four years. “Eligible misdemeanors” are any misdemeanor offense that is not included on the ineligible list. The waiting period for such offenses is two years for any non-conviction, notwithstanding whether the person was charged. The waiting periods can also be increased if a person has additional arrests or convictions.

Eligibility and waiting period determinations are two of the most complicated issues in DC record sealing. A skilled DC sealed records lawyer can help you determine if you are eligible to file a motion to seal and how long you must wait before filing.

If your motion to seal is granted, you may legally deny the arrest or charge to anyone who asks, except that you must disclose the sealed case in connection to any questionnaire related to jury service or any application for a position with one of the following:

  • Any court
  • Any federal, state, or local prosecutor
  • Any law enforcement agency
  • Any professional licensing agency (for example, medical or legal)
  • Any licensed school, day care center, or other facility involving children,
  • Any government employer, provided the position is as a judicial or quasi-judicial officer, or any senior-level, executive-grade position

Sealing DC Convictions

Eligible misdemeanor and felony failure to appear convictions are only eligible to seal on interest of justice grounds. Ineligible misdemeanor and any other felony convictions are not eligible to seal in any circumstances. Even for eligible convictions, defendants must wait eight years from the time they are “off papers,” meaning they have completed any term of incarceration or probation and satisfied any other requirements from the court, before filing. A subsequent conviction will make a prior eligible conviction ineligible to seal. While these hurdles may seem high, they are not insurmountable. An experienced DC sealed records attorney may be able help you seal your eligible misdemeanor or felony conviction.