Correcting Your Record—Sealing Dismissed Criminal Cases in Colorado
By: Attorney Patterson Weaver
Congratulations! Your case was dismissed! Maybe the prosecutor dismissed your case because you took some classes they wanted. Maybe the prosecutor didn’t have sufficient evidence to charge you, or if you were charged, to proceed with those charges. Maybe you went to trial and were acquitted. Whatever the reason—you’re done! Right?
Well, not really. Most people think that when their case is dismissed or they are acquitted, the nightmare is over. Unfortunately, that’s not necessarily the case. From now until forever, anyone that pulls a background check on you can still see the arrest and the charge. Even though your case is dismissed or you were acquitted—future employers may not look on someone that was even arrested or charged with a crime kindly. Let’s face it—“charged with domestic violence” (or anything similar) is not a resume builder—no matter the outcome.
The good news is, if your case was dismissed or you were acquitted, you may be able to get your case sealed. The bad news is that, unlike many states, you cannot “expunge” your case in Colorado. Most of my clients have a predictable next question; “what’s the difference?” Well, states that permit actually expunging a record actually shred the file. The case never existed. No one, whether civilian or law enforcement, can see that the case existed.
Sealing a case in Colorado is not quite so thorough. If a case is properly sealed, a civilian background check will not show the case, or even the arrest, beyond perhaps basic identifying information. In fact if your case is sealed, under Colorado Law, if asked by potential employers, educational institutions, and government agencies if you were ever arrested—you can legally respond “no”. However, law enforcement and the courts will always be able to see the arrest and the case.
Still—sealing a case can be incredibly helpful and better allow a person to put an unfortunate chapter behind them. Under a new statute in Colorado (C.R.S. 24-72-702.5), many cases can now be automatically sealed at the time they are dismissed in Court.
However, if sealing under the old statute (C.R.S. 24-72-702) sealing a case is not automatic. If your petition is properly drafted, you meet the criteria, and are granted a hearing, at the hearing you must demonstrate “that the harm to the privacy of the petitioner or dangers of unwarranted adverse consequences to the petitioner outweigh the public interest in retaining the records . . . .“ C.R.S. 24-72-702(1)(b)(II)(B). In other words—it is a balancing test. The court must find that your interest in sealing the record is greater than the public’s interest in keeping the record public. Therefore, documenting every time the dismissed case caused you actual problems in your everyday life, and providing firm evidence of how it is likely to adversely affect you in the future, is essential to convincing a court to seal a case.
So—can you seal any case? No, there are exceptions. For example, it is not possible to seal most basic traffic tickets in Colorado. That’s right, sorry—but there is nothing that can be done about that speeding citation you got last summer. The statute provides various other exceptions as well.
But what about sealing convictions? Or cases dismissed because of a plea in another case? Those are different situations with their own rules—and perhaps the subject of a later blog article. Stay tuned.
Exceptions aside, while sealing a case may not be a perfect solution—it is certainly a very helpful one. Sealing a case may allow you to get a job or be accepted at a university when it would otherwise be impossible. If you want to know if sealing a dismissed case in your particular circumstance is possible, take a look at C.R.S. 24-72-702 and 702.5, and contact an experienced sealing lawyer such as myself, Attorney Patterson Weaver, in your area. It usually takes little more than a brief phone conversation to determine if your case is sealable. Good luck!
For a more detailed discussion of Colorado Case Sealing—click HERE.