A criminal conviction, or even just an arrest, can follow you for years. Having a criminal record can affect your ability to rent a home, apply for a mortgage or loan, and get a new job. If the mistakes of your past continue to haunt you, you may wonder if there are ways of sealing or expunging criminal records in Colorado. There are, but the real question is whether you can qualify to have your criminal record sealed or destroyed.
Sealing vs Expungement in Colorado: What’s the Difference?
Many people use the terms sealing and expungement interchangeably to mean getting your criminal record cleared. However, there is a difference between the two processes under Colorado law that makes one far more difficult to obtain than the other.
Sealing records means making that record non-public. It will still exist, and can still be used by law enforcement and the courts. However, it will not be available to employers, credit agencies, or landlords doing a background check. Sealing records can be effective in limiting the collateral consequences of a criminal arrest or conviction, and is more readily available than true expungement.
Expungement is the destruction of criminal records. Expunged records are invisible not just to the general public, but to law enforcement as well.
Sealing Records in Colorado Without a Conviction
You can end up with a criminal court record even without a conviction. Your criminal record starts as soon as you are placed under arrest. However, if you were never convicted of a crime, you are eligible to have the record sealed immediately after the investigation ends or the charges have been dropped. You can get your criminal record sealed if you were:
- Arrested for a crime but later released without charges
- Charged with a crime but those charges were later dismissed with no conviction
- Acquitted and found not guilty at trial
In each of these instances, as soon as your case is closed, you can ask the Colorado court to seal the record.
Sealing Records With Criminal Convictions
If your case did result in a conviction, you may still be able to seal your criminal record, eventually. This year (2022), the Colorado legislature passed the Clean Slate Act, which allows for the automatic sealing of convictions for civil infractions, petty offenses, misdemeanors, and certain felonies after a set period of time. Before you can request a seal, you must have completed all sentencing terms, including:
- Serving jail time
- Completing probation
- Paying off fines, costs, and restitution
For certain crimes, you will also need to go through a waiting period after your sentence is complete before filing a petition to seal records. Rather than getting rejected because you filed too soon, discuss your criminal history and your convictions with an experienced criminal defense attorney to see how long you will need to wait before having your records sealed.
Can You Seal a Felony Record in Colorado?
You are not eligible to have your records sealed if you were convicted of a Class 1, 2, or 3 felony, or a Level 1 drug felony. However, some Class 4, 5, and 6 felonies are eligible for sealing. In addition, you cannot have your record sealed if you were convicted of a:
- Sex crime
- Domestic violence crime
- Class A or B traffic infraction
- Crime involving a commercial driver’s license
Juvenile Record Expungement in Colorado
There is no age limit on sealing criminal records in Colorado, but to have those records destroyed you must be eligible for expungement. Generally this is limited to:
- Juvenile records
- Underage Drinking and Driving (UDD) records
- Arrest records where the arrestee was the victim of mistaken identity
A juvenile record means that your criminal behavior occurred before you turned 18 years old, and you were adjudicated responsible for that behavior in the juvenile court, rather than adult criminal court. Not all cases against minors are juvenile cases. Sometimes Colorado law allows juveniles to be charged with serious felonies as adults based on their age and juvenile history. People with juvenile records can petition to have their record expunged unless they were:
- Adjudicated as a violent juvenile offender or aggravated juvenile offender
- Convicted of a traffic offense or infraction
- Convicted of a sex offense felony
- Convicted of homicide or a related offense
The waiting period prior to expungement depends on whether you were convicted, and the type of juvenile offense you were adjudicated responsible of. There is no waiting period if you:
- Were found not guilty or not delinquent at trial
- Successfully completed a diversion program or deferred adjudication or judgment
- Finished an informal adjustment
- Had the charges dropped
- Were arrested but not charged and the statute of limitations to press charges have passed
If you are convicted or adjudicated responsible you will need to wait:
- 1 year if contact with law enforcement did not lead to referral to another agency
- 1 year if you successfully finished probation
- 3 years if you received unconditional release from parole or Department of Human Services (DHS) commitment
- 5 years if you were released as a repeat offender or mandatory offender
If you were convicted of UDD, you may petition for expungement immediately after turning 21 years old. Petitions based on arrests with mistaken identity must be filed by the law enforcement agency no later than 90 days after the police investigation reveals the mistake.
The process for filing a petition for expungement or a petition to seal criminal records in Colorado is complicated. Many people who try to fill out the paperwork themselves do it wrong, file too soon, or end up getting their petition denied. At Aviso Law, we understand the importance of being able to expunge and seal records, and our skilled Colorado criminal law attorneys know what it takes to pursue sealing and expungement to protect your reputation. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.