If you’ve ever been arrested for a crime, you probably had to appear before a judge – perhaps even a jury. That can be terrifying, especially if you didn’t commit the crime you’re accused of. Regardless, if the charges were dismissed at any point, you were free to go without any kind of conviction on your record. But are you really free of consequences? Beginning with your arrest, records are logged at every step in the proceedings. So even if you got your charge dismissed – will a dismissed charge still show up on a criminal record?
If your dismissed charges show up on your criminal record, then it could still be following you around without your knowing – and when you apply for a job, for example, it may make things more difficult for you. In this guide, we’ll give you the short answer to that question, then talk about using the best background checker to figure out if your dismissed charge is still hanging around. Then, we’ll go through what expungement is and how you can go about seeing if you qualify to have it performed.
The short answer
Regardless of when your charges were dismissed – whether prior to court, during, or after – will they show up on a criminal background check? Yes, they can. It doesn’t matter if you were convicted, your background check will likely show that you were arrested.
But don’t jump straight to getting it cleared just yet – it can be a lengthy process, and things might not be as bad you think. There’s a chance that, although the dismissed charge may be included in your background check, it may contain a note saying as much. So first, use a background checker to find out the details for yourself.
Picking a background checker
To pick the best background checker for finding your criminal record, we used a handful of criteria:
- Detail – When it comes to checking on your criminal record, you need a background checker that dives deep, turning over everything so you know that every source of data has been checked. If it doesn’t, you might have false peace of mind thinking your dismissed charge won’t show up – until it’s brought up in your next job interview and your blindsided.
- Accuracy – Similarly, your background checker needs to be accurate. If you’ve already had your dismissed charge expunged, it shouldn’t show up. The service should return reliable information.
- Speed –The expunging process can take a long time to complete – so If a dismissed charge is going to show up on your record, you want to know fast. Basic results should be delivered in a few minutes, and a complete character profile in 4-5 days.
- Ease of use – With all the information that background checking websites sort through and deliver, you need to be able navigate easily. A good dashboard will be friendly and intuitive to use. Having an app for your mobile device is a helpful quality, too.
That said, here is our pick for the best background checking site to see if a dismissed charge is going to show up: TruthFinder.
Why do dismissed charges still show up?
Your charge was dismissed, so it’s like it never happened, right? Well, yes and no. As soon as you’re arrested by the police, a record is created saying that you were arrested. This is called a RAP sheet – or Record of Arrests and Prosecutions. Your RAP sheet enters a database that’s shared between police departments and may show up on background checks. That’s record number 1.
Next, when you go to court, a criminal record is created, noting your arraignment, charges, and any subsequent court appearances related to that case – including going to the court just to reschedule for later. Although you may not be found guilty, or have the case against you dismissed, you’ll still have a criminal record. It may not say that you were convicted, but it will show that you were charged for something and went to court.
Getting dismissed charges erased
Thankfully, there is a way to get dismissed charges removed from your criminal record. This is called “expungement.” To expunge something means to “remove it completely.” In literal terms, this is the court process by which your criminal record is destroyed. Technically, expungement refers to the literal destruction of your records – something that isn’t always allowed, depending on the state. States that do not allow true expungement instead provide the option to “seal” your criminal record.
That just means that your record can’t be physically destroyed, so your state may allow it to be opened under very specific cases – like if police are investigating a related case, or you’re facing conviction for a serious crime at a later point. However, in some states there is a way to permanently seal your record, called a Certificate of Actual Innocence. If you’re charged the it’s later dropped, or you’re found not guilty after trial, this counteracts any possibility that the record may be unsealed – essentially, it proves that there should have been a criminal record for you in the first place.
Benefits of being expunged/sealed
There are some obvious benefits to having your record expunged, but the biggest is certainly worth noting: once your record has been expunged, you no longer have a criminal record and can legally say that you have never been arrested, accused, or charged with a crime. Until it has been expunged, you cannot legally say otherwise, even if charges were dismissed.
Further, if you apply for a new job or are already working for an employer, they cannot ask about expunged charges, nor can they use it against you. Such discrimination would be grounds for legal ramifications. And since you can now legally answer “no” on the section of job applications that ask about criminal records, you become eligible for better jobs that pay higher and afford you greater earning capacity.
Finally, the best for last: any time a criminal background check is run — whether for a new job, a new lease, mortgage or credit card application – no criminal activity will appear. Getting your record expunged is like a “reset” button to before you were arrested and charged – which can’t be said otherwise.
How to get your dismissed charge expunged
The process for getting your criminal record cleared can feel long, hard, and tedious. In any and all cases, to be eligible for expungement or sealing, you need to meet some criteria. Some of these may include:
- Type of crime must be within approved state guidelines
- Proceedings had to lead to dismissal, not guilty, or post-trial acquittal
- You were released prior to formal criminal charges were filed
- You’ve met all state-designated waiting periods
- You have no new pending charges or offenses
- Any fines or restitution have been paid in full
- All rehabilitation programs have been completed successfully.
Expungement usually begins by filing an application or petition. This basically requests your case to be reviewed by a court to determine if it’s actually eligible for expungement. There are several documents you’ll need to include with this, like:
- Certificate of eligibility – you can receive this from your state’s probation department
- Acceptance of service
- Consent and waiver of hearing
- Victim and prosecutor statements
- Petitioner’s reply
- Victim checklist
- Findings of fact and conclusions of law.
With all these forms, it can be helpful to consult with a lawyer to make sure things go smoothly. In any case, you’ll work with your state’s probation department to prepare your report that court will use to decide whether you’re eligible. If they determine you’ve behaved well and met all your state’s criteria, you stand a good chance of having your criminal record expunged or sealed.
Until your petition to have your dismissed charge expunged goes through, you may still encounter trouble related to it as a result of background checks. But some simple measures can help you explain these away.
Many job applications ask for convictions – not arrests. So, you may not have to disclose it at all. But, since it will likely show up when they run your background check, telling them up front could help minimize any potential damage or accusations. When you do so, don’t just admit to being arrested and charged with a crime. Instead, discuss what led to the situation and why authorities decided not to pursue a conviction. And finally, rather than spending a lot of time discussing and “over-explaining” the dismissed charge, briefly explain what happened. Then, segue the conversation into your qualifications and enthusiasm for the job you applied to.
If you were charged with a crime that you didn’t commit, it can be terrifying. Whether your case went to trial, or was dropped or dismissed prior to or after the fact – a dismissed charge can still show up on criminal records, reducing your options to pursue a better career, home, and lease on life. Thankfully, though, you can find out ahead of time if a dismissed charge is going to show up by using a criminal background checker like TruthFinder. Once you know, you can take the steps necessary to move forward.
Have you every looked up your criminal record using a background checker? Were you surprised by the results? Tell us your story in the comments section below.