If you’re tired of wondering how long that misdemeanor will stay on your record, you’re not alone. We’ll walk you through everything you need to know about misdemeanors in the U.S., including classifications and expungement. You’ll also get the lowdown on the best online background checking sites to help you assess which misdemeanors, if any, are currently on your record.
There are a lot of generally law-abiding U.S. citizens out there who might have a misdemeanor or two on their records. For some, this might be due to a criminal past you would rather put behind you. For others, it might be the result of youthful exuberance or a one-off incident at college.
But there are also plenty of examples of people whose misdemeanors come back to haunt them. Perhaps they applied for a job and met all the criteria, but then the misdemeanor came to light. Perhaps a partner or child found about a criminal past they would rather forget.
Information and intelligence are all-powerful in the modern world, and this has led to many people reconsidering their past misdemeanors and trying to expunge them from their records and their personal history.
In this article, we tell you how to find out if your prior misdemeanors are still on record and, if so, what you can do about it.
How long does a misdemeanor stay on your record?
If you have been arrested or convicted of a misdemeanor, the chances are you don’t want that criminal past to affect your life now. If this sounds like you, then there is good news and bad news.
The good news is that if you were arrested but not convicted for a misdemeanor offense, your record could now be clean. That is because, under the the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), all such arrests are wiped off your record after a period of seven years. So, as long as enough time has passed, there will no way for family, friends, or employees to find a record of your misdemeanor arrest.
But, if you were arrested and convicted for a misdemeanor, it is not such good news. Convictions will stay on your record indefinitely, so the chances are that a background check would turn up a prior misdemeanor. This will depend to an extent on how thorough the background check is. Some will only go back a few years or won’t be exhaustive, so older misdemeanors may not show up.
In some states there are laws that prevent background checking companies from looking back more than so many years. For example, in Texas there is a seven year rule preventing background checking companies from reporting dismissed charges older than that (though there is an exception when applying to positions salaried higher than $75,000 per year). Other states with similar laws include California, Colorado, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, and Washington, so be sure to do a little extra research depending on your location.
But while this offers legal certainty, there is no guarantee that mistakes won’t happen. If you are not in one of these states, your misdemeanor record is still fair game. The best thing to do is to find out for yourself.
How to find out if your misdemeanor comes up on a background check
If you want to know exactly what potential employees, families, and friends can find out about through a background check, the best thing to do is to run one yourself. If you decide to go down this route, you need to be careful about which background checking service you choose. There are a lot out there but some are far less thorough than others.
If you want a conclusive idea about what records there about you, you need to choose a service which offers a comprehensive file check, especially when it comes to criminal records. That means they don’t just cross-check federal records but also go down to state and county level too.
Best background checking services for seeing misdemeanors
We have road-tested all of the major background checking sites to test which is best for digging out misdemeanor records. Here are the top two services to help you see your misdemeanors:
Another fast and reliable background checking service was Instant CheckMate. Their comprehensive reports come up as fast as any service we have tested and are well-laid out and easy to follow.
In our tests, they managed to identify comprehensive criminal records data including misdemeanor records alongside other many other things such as sex offender registers, marriage and divorce records, details of relatives, address history, social media presence, and much more.
Prices start at a modest $34.78 per month, with a discount on three-month subscriptions at just $27.82 per month. Given the quality of their output, this represents excellent value for money.
TruthFinder offers an incredible depth of detailed research at hugely competitive prices. Like many background checking sites, they offer a two-tier pricing structure, with prices starting at $27.78 for one month or just $23.02 for two months. But even with their basic package you will see full criminal record details alongside such information as sex offender registers, driving records, and data about known relatives.
Premium subscribers get the full works and despite the huge amount of detail, this is all present is a simple, easy-to-read report. 24/7 customer support available on a toll-free number should you need it, but TruthFinder’s service is so good we would be surprised if you ever did.
What is a misdemeanor?
There are two types of criminal offense in the U.S. A felony is a serious crime and likely to result in a serious jail sentence. A misdemeanor is a minor offense that could result in a short jail sentence but more likely some form of probation or fine.
Examples of misdemeanors under U.S. law include things like:
- Disorderly Conduct or Public Intoxication
- Driving Under the Influence (DUI)
- Driving While Intoxicated (DWI)
- Minor in Possession of Alcohol
- Non-Violent Crimes (such as drug possession)
- Petty Theft
- Resisting Arrest
- Vandalism or Criminal Mischief
- Speeding tickets (in some states only)
The U.S. federal government draws the line at crimes which result in a jail sentence of one year. If you receive a longer sentence, you are considered a felon because you have committed a felony in the eyes of the state. If you are sentenced to jail for less than a year, you are a misdemeanant because you have committed a misdemeanor.
Classes of misdemeanors (federal & state)
Federal law includes three classes of misdemeanor:
- Federal Class A – The most severe federal misdemeanors, punishable by six months to a year in jail.
- Federal Class B – Offenses punishable by one to six months in jail.
- Federal Class C – The least severe offenses punishable by five to thirty days in jail. Anything lower than five days is considered a federal infraction.
RELATED READING: What shows up on an FBI fingerprint background check?
But many states draw the line differently. Some states are a lot more lenient than others when it comes to misdemeanors. There is no set state definition, but in general terms, most states also have three classes misdemeanors:
- High or gross misdemeanors – The most severe misdemeanor convictions. These can result in incarceration in a county jail, and fines of more than $1,000.
- Ordinary misdemeanors – These are regular misdemeanors. They may result in some jail time or fines over $500.
- Petty misdemeanors – The least severe offenses which result in jail time of less than six months and fines below $500.
If you do have a misdemeanor in your past, it is worth checking the definition in both the state where it occurred and the state where you now live and work to figure out how seriously your misdemeanor is viewed where you are now.
What can I do if a misdemeanor does show on my record?
If your background check does turn up a misdemeanor record, there are two realistic options open to you.
- The first is to have a good explanation ready to tell your prospective employees or loved ones. If your misdemeanor was just a case of youthful exuberance, it is possible that you will be given the benefit of the doubt.
- But if this doesn’t appeal, your other option is to try and get the misdemeanor expunged from your record. This is usually much easier with misdemeanors than it is for felonies but it is not guaranteed. Not all states will allow every misdemeanor to be expunged and if you have multiple misdemeanors on your record you will need to make a separate application for each one. There is no guarantee that these application will be accepted. It is also possible that getting a misdemeanor expunged will still not wipe your record completely clean. For example, if it was a sexual offense, you may still remain on the sex offenders register.
How to get a misdemeanor expunged
To get your misdemeanor expunged, the first thing to do is check that you’ve complied with all the local laws and the requirements set forth by the local court system. This will vary from state to state.
You will also need to be in compliance with the following criteria:
- Have completed your probation with no further incidents, violations, or penalties
- Have no pending arrests or proceedings for any other criminal convictions
- Have fulfilled the original sentencing requirements
- Have limited prior charges (in some states the “three strikes” law is still in effect, and this may restrict your ability to get a third conviction expunged)
- Follow the state-required waiting period. This is usually 1 to 3 years after being released from jail or completing payment of fines.
It is not necessary to seek formal legal advice before applying for an expungement but it is never a bad idea to be sure of your legal grounds before going ahead.
If you fulfill all of these requirements you can then submit a written expungement request to the relevant local court. This is a written request for the court to review your conviction. They may take some time to provide a response to this request. But if they agree to expunge, the impact this could have on your life will be more than worth the wait.
Misdemeanor conviction stay on your record for ever but there are ways to change this. Running a background check is a good way to see if your misdemeanor records come up. You might get lucky and find your misdemeanor was far enough back to not crop up anymore. If it does, there are still options including seeking an expungement.
In this article, we have outlined everything you need to know. Have we missed anything out? Have your used a background check to see if your past misdemeanor still comes up? What did you do about it? Any tips for our readers? We always welcome feedback and comments from our readers to help inform others, so why not share your own experiences with us using the comment box below?