Accessing Criminal Records
In Washington DC, criminal records are available to the public under the Freedom of Information Act. Accessing a person’s record can be necessary for background checks for employment, licensing, adoption, or overseas travel.
In DC, there is a process to seal (not expunge) records. This is very similar to the process used in other states.
What is a criminal record?
A criminal record is documentation of a person’s involvement with the criminal justice system. It includes any crime a person is charged with, convicted of or found guilty of since age 12. DC criminal records can be used for background checks by government agencies and others. For example, employers can see them and licensing agencies can do checks as well. They are also used for immigration, international travel and visas, and working with children checks.
A felony is a serious crime that carries more severe penalties than misdemeanors and can result in imprisonment up to one year. Felonies are tried in state courts. Misdemeanors are tried in lower-level municipal, police or justice courts. They include petty theft, public nuisance offenses and minor traffic violations. Under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, convictions are treated as’spent’ after a certain amount of time.
Are police records public?
In Washington DC, criminal records are public information and can be accessed by anyone who asks. The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) makes these records available to those who request them for purposes of employment, licensing, adoption, apartment rentals and overseas travel among others.
These requests are known as police clearances. Those seeking these documents can apply for them in person at MPD headquarters in Room 1075 by filling out PD Form 70 and showing a valid photo ID.
Those who live outside the city or cannot come to the station can write a letter requesting police clearances and send it along with a $7 money order payable to the Treasurer of the District of Columbia, a self-addressed stamped envelope and a notary-certified signature. It can take up to 24 hours for the MPD to process these requests.
Can employers see your criminal record?
The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act does not limit how far back an employer can go in conducting a background check. This means that your old convictions may show up, even if they are decades ago.
The District of Columbia now has a “ban the box” law that limits employers’ ability to ask about your arrest records before tabling a job offer. It also allows for petition-based sealing of non-conviction records at disposition and a smaller group of felony records after a waiting period.
However, most cases are sealed rather than expunged, and only misdemeanors such as urinating in public or driving under the influence can be completely erased from your record. Many people find themselves blocked from housing or employment opportunities due to their arrest records.
How do I look up criminal records in Washington DC?
Arrest records are deemed public information, so anyone can access them in Washington DC. However, they tend to be more difficult to find than conviction records because arrests are more easily expunged than convictions. Additionally, background check companies typically don’t offer a search for arrest records.
The District of Columbia offers a unique way to conduct criminal background checks through its court system. Its website has a case search engine that allows people to look up cases brought to its courts, including the offenses committed and the decisions made by the judge. However, the returned reports don’t include pictures, physical descriptions, or addresses.
Individuals seeking police clearances for licensing, employment, adoption, or overseas travel can request their records from the Metropolitan Police Department’s Arrest and Criminal History section in person or by mail. Requests for criminal histories are typically processed in twenty-four hours.
Can I get my criminal record expunged?
A DUI conviction can be a roadblock to employment, housing and professional licensing in Washington DC. Fortunately, you can get your criminal record expunged in the District of Columbia with the help of an experienced DC DUI expungement lawyer.
A court can seal your criminal records in the District of Columbia under various statutes, with the most common being D.C. Code SS 16-803. Generally, the term “sealing” and “expunging” are used interchangeably in the District of Columbia.
The difference between the two is that expungement completely erases your prior convictions, while sealing only hides them from public access. The latter option can still be accessed by law enforcement, as well as certain government agencies. The process is complicated and can take from 4-8 months to complete.