Sealing Your Criminal Record – and Clearing Your Name
Are criminal misdemeanor crimes mistakes that will follow you for the rest of your life, or do misdemeanors go away in Colorado? It is a question that thousands of Coloradoans ask every year after their arrest and conviction for any number of misdemeanor offenses.
Many Colorado citizens believe that criminal misdemeanor crimes are “minor” since misdemeanors don’t typically involve the harsh penalties and significant prison time that often follow felony convictions.
But the truth is that a Colorado misdemeanor conviction can have major long-term consequences. You could wind up behind bars for months and pay thousands of dollars in fines, restitution, and legal fees. To make matters worse, even after serving your time and paying your dues, a criminal misdemeanor conviction in Colorado can limit your career, housing, educational, and other opportunities and leave a stain on your reputation for years or decades to come. The good news is that, in many cases, you can make misdemeanors go away and free yourself from the stigma that comes with having a criminal conviction on your record. The process for doing so is known as sealing your record.
What Does It Mean to Seal a Misdemeanor Criminal Record?
The main distinction between criminal felonies and misdemeanors is that the former comes with the possibility of prison sentences of a year or more, served in a state penitentiary. While local or county jail time of up to a year is almost always a possibility upon conviction for a Colorado misdemeanor, that doesn’t mean it is inevitable. Many sentences do not include time behind bars but do involve other penalties such as probation, suspension of a driver’s license, community service, and restitution to the victim.
And, of course, a misdemeanor conviction will go on your permanent record. But you can petition the Colorado Springs courts to make misdemeanors go away in many cases. Depending on the nature of the offense, you can request to have the record of your conviction sealed. Once sealed, the conviction no longer appears on publicly available records, such as those used by employers and landlords when doing background checks.
Many people use the term “expungement” when describing how to make misdemeanors go away and clear them from a criminal record. In Colorado, however, there is a distinction between the two. Expungement only applies to certain juvenile criminal records and, in effect, destroys those records as if they never existed.
Sealing, on the other hand, does not involve the destruction of an arrest or conviction record. Rather, it means that the general public won’t see that information. While the record still exists, you can move forward as if the underlying offense or conviction never happened.
Can All Misdemeanors Go Away?
There is a lengthy list of misdemeanor offenses under Colorado law, which divides them into three classes depending on the nature and seriousness of the crime. Sealing is not available for all misdemeanors. You will not be able to seal convictions for the following misdemeanors and infractions:
- Class One misdemeanor traffic offenses
- Class Two misdemeanor traffic offenses
- Class A traffic infractions
- Class B traffic infractions
- Crimes involving a commercial driver’s license
- Crimes involving domestic violence
How Long You Need to Wait Before You Can Get a Record Sealed
Even when you can request the sealing of a record, the kind of misdemeanor you seek to seal will determine how long you must wait before you can petition the court to make a misdemeanor go away.
- Petty Offenses and Petty Drug Offenses: one year after final disposition or release;
- Class Two and Three Misdemeanors: two years after final disposition or release;
- Drug Misdemeanors: two years after final disposition or release;
- Class One Misdemeanors: three years after final disposition or release.
Misdemeanor Arrests, Dismissals, and Acquittals
Police arrest many people for alleged crimes who ultimately do not face charges. Similarly, prosecutors often dismiss criminal charges before trial. And, of course, defendants can win their case and obtain a full acquittal. Nevertheless, all of those occurrences – arrest, charges, and dismissal – all will still appear on a person’s record unless sealed. In these and similar circumstances, you can petition a Colorado Springs court to have such records sealed without waiting. Specifically, you can seek to make a misdemeanor go away immediately if: Police arrested you, but prosecutors never brought charges against you;
- Prosecutors or the court dismissed your case;
- A judge or jury acquitted you of the charges;
- The statute of limitations passed without prosecutors charging you;
- You successfully completed a diversion program.
Asking a Court to Make Misdemeanors Go Away
The process for requesting a court to seal a misdemeanor record can be confusing and complicated. While you have a right to request sealing for the crimes and after the waiting periods discussed above, judges have wide discretion when considering sealing petitions.
There is no guarantee that your Colorado Springs or El Paso County judge will grant such a request. Given how much of a burden a criminal record can be on your future opportunities, you shouldn’t take any chances. An experienced Colorado Springs misdemeanor lawyer can help you through the process so you can move forward with your life.