Being convicted of a crime in Georgia is costly and time consuming, and the process can be stressful and emotionally taxing for both defendants and their families. Unfortunately, once fines are paid and time is served, convicted offenders are not fully off the hook – any criminal conviction, whether misdemeanor or felony, indefinitely remains on that person’s criminal record.
This situation is one of the lesser-considered realities of the criminal justice system, but is often very significant. Criminal convictions can crop up in background checks when applying for a new job or renting an apartment. If a prospective employer asks whether you have ever been convicted of a crime, you are legally required to answer in the affirmative.
Troublingly, public records aggregators such as Spokeo and Intelius include criminal convictions in their people search directories. Since these websites often appear high in Google’ssearch results for individual names, a compromising or embarrassing past criminal conviction may be one of the first things someone sees when they search for a name.
All of this is to say that criminal records have the potential to damage a person’s reputation long after they have completed any formal punishment. Luckily, those seeking to clear their record and mitigate this damage have recourse to an important legal tool: that of expungement.
What Is Expungement?
Expungement is a court order that instructs the law and the courts to treat a criminal arrest or convictionas though it had never existed. In other words, the legal record of the arrest or conviction is formally “erased” from the official record.
In reality, ‘expungement’ in the context of Georgia is a misnomer. Criminal records in Georgia cannot literally be ‘erased.’ Instead, access to these records is strictly limited to particular agents of the judicial system. This process is known as ‘records restriction’ or ‘records sealing.’
Records restrictions in Georgia occur through one of two processes: automatic restriction, and restriction by petition. Both must be approved by the state prosecutor who prosecuted the case.
Automatic records restriction is available in cases where an arrest was not referred to the state prosecutor, or the prosecutor took too much time to file charges. In Georgia, the statute of limitations is two years for misdemeanor offenses, four years for non-serious felonies, and seven years for serious violent or sexual felonies. These types of records restrictions are placed automatically, but are only temporary, pending resolution of the case.
Automatic restriction may also be available after indictment in cases where a prosecutor has filed charges that are later dropped, or the defendant is acquitted of all charges at trial. These restrictions are permanent.
Restriction by Petition
Those convicted of a crime seeking to seal their records must do so by petition. They must submit an application, along with a processing fee, to the state prosecutor. Whether the petition is granted is at the discretion of the prosecutor.
The process of obtaining a records restriction is complicated, and necessitates careful accuracy. A qualified Atlanta attorney can guide you through this process, ensuring that the strongest possible case for records restriction is put forward.