When you are charged with a crime, a bell is rung, figuratively speaking. And that bell cannot be unrung. Some record that you were arrested or charged can be found when you apply for a job or housing, when you submit to a background check (or one is run without your knowledge), if you apply for a permit to carry a concealed weapon, or if you apply for certain professional licenses.
There is no simple answer to whether or how those records can be erased.
Who Keeps Records?
Records of arrests are maintained by two of the three branches of government: the judicial and the executive. Each of these branches of government oversees several agencies or departments. The judicial branch includes the courts themselves; the executive branch keeps records via local police departments, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), city authorities, the Department of Human Services (sometimes), and other agencies, depending on the nature of the alleged crime and other factors. There are also records of federal and some state crimes at the FBI. Private organizations might also keep records that others can access. For example, local newspapers often run weekly “police blotters” that list calls emergency personnel responded to.
When Do They Open a Record?
What triggers each agency to create a record with your name varies. The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) creates a record when you are finger printed. The courts’ public access record system (called MNCIS) sometimes opens a record when you are arrested, sometimes after an arraignment or first appearance, and sometimes after a conviction, depending on the county and the individual clerks at that county.
What Can You Do To Clear Your Name?
Similarly, whether you can remove or expunge or delete or seal a record with your name on it, and the procedure for doing so, varies by agency.
Under the U.S. and Minnesota Constitutions, the three branches of government are independent of each other. Therefore, the judicial branch has no authority over executive branch records and vice versa. A request to seal a BCA record may succeed, but it will not affect the court’s records of the same arrest. Similarly, an expungement of a judicial branch record will not eliminate the record of that arrest at any executive branch agency, such as the police department.
Even if you are arrested and the case is dismissed (for example, because of no probable cause, or an error), some records will be created that you may or may not be able to completely eliminate.
I will work with you on an expungement if you were not convicted (and you didn’t plead) and if the crime doesn’t fit certain categories (enhanceable crimes like DWI, certain sex crimes requiring registration, and murder) which cannot be expunged. But even a successful expungement does not eliminate the BCA records which have to be sealed by a different process.
Who Performs a Background Check?
If you go to work for a mom-and-pop store, mom or pop may perform the background check by typing your name into Google or looking at a few of the obvious public records sites. If you apply for a job with Fortune 500 company, a retired FBI agent may perform their background checks.
If you doggedly pursue all the options for clearing your name, the various expungement options and having certain records sealed, the bell has still been rung. Whether someone can find that you were arrested or charged depends on just how successful you are at eliminating the trail and how hard they look.