In the District of Columbia, we don’t have what’s called an expungement or an expunction. Those are older terms developed by courts that reasoned some defendants, who could prove they were innocent, should not be burdened by a criminal record. A traditional example would be if the government violated your constitutional rights and it turned out that you were actually innocent of the crime for which you are arrested, then a court might expunge your record and destroy all records of the case.
In DC, the DC Council decided not to closely follow the older expungement model. Instead, it created a two-tier record sealing system in which defendants who can prove they are innocent of the crime for which they were arrested are entitled to a full sealing of their record while those who can only prove that they deserve to move past their record, but not their innocence, are entitled to a partial sealing. Either type of relief can greatly benefit individuals with criminal records.
The first thing that somebody needs to be cognizant of is the entirety of their criminal record. The interest of justice record sealing statute requires defendants to file on motion to seal each of their arrests and charges. There’s a lot of interplay between charges and convictions in other jurisdictions. Basically, the court looks at the entirety of somebody’s record in determining if he or she is eligible to seal before it even considers whether that person deserves to have a sealed record.
If that person doesn’t really have a clear idea of what their records look like and, for example, forgets about a thirty-year old arrest, it is going to make it difficult to give the person a full and fair consultation about their record sealing eligibility and chances of success.
Therefore, what I recommend to people before they speak to a lawyer is to go down to 300 Indiana Avenue the Metropolitan Police headquarters, and request a copy of their arrest record for criminal record sealing purposes. The DC Council amended the record sealing law in 2013 to require the Metropolitan Police Department to turn over a full list of a person’s arrests in the District. They should also stop at DC Superior Court and ask for certified dispositions for all of their criminal cases.
The other thing that people should really know is that this is not a quick process. This is what’s called a collateral proceeding to a criminal prosecution meaning it happens after the conclusion of a criminal case. People don’t have the same rights that you might have in a criminal trial. For example, you have a right to a speedy trial in a criminal case. There are no such rights in record sealing cases.
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