Do I have a record? Things Young Professionals MUST know.
Perhaps one of the most common things I hear when asking about someone's past criminal record is that they don't think anything should have ended up on their record. Sometimes it's because of a deal cut with the prosecutor, sometimes the Judge, and sometimes young people take a court employee's word for it! While it can be very difficult to correct a past issue that has tanked your record, there is hope, but first you must know what you are looking for.
Step 1: Should I have a record?
When I use the term record, I am referring to a criminal record. In Georgia, they are called criminal histories and are kept by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's "Georgia Crime Information Center" or GCIC. GCIC is responsible for maintaining records on anyone charged with a crime in Georgia. Additionally, if you missed a court date or failed to pay a fine on time, your information may end up in GCIC's database. You also have a driving history- commonly known as an MVR- from whatever state you hold a driver's license in. However, this article does not concern your MVR reports. Those reports have become more accessible over the years and you can now pull your Georgia MVR on the Dept. of Driver Services website.
So, whether you should have a record depends on a few things. Have you ever been arrested? If you have not, you should not have a record. The grey area comes when we talk about those little tickets, or that one time you were taken in for having a beer as a minor, but everyone said it wasn't a big deal… Anytime you are taken into jail and fingerprinted or personal information is collected there is the potential that you will leave the jail with a criminal record for the world to see. In Georgia, misdemeanors, felonies and even certain local ordinance and traffic violations are supposed to appear on your criminal history. Once you are arrested and fingerprinted, you have a history. The outcome, or disposition, of your case is the only thing left to be decided.
Step 2: What happened to my case?
If you know you were arrested and charged with something, common crimes include: DUI, marijuana possession, minor in possession (MIP), reckless driving, simple assault, shoplifting, etc., then it is imperative to know what the outcome of your case was. If you had a lawyer, hopefully they sat down with you and explained the consequences the charges can have on your record. If you went at it alone, now is the time to check on things! In Georgia, Guilty pleas and No Contest pleas stay on your criminal history. The record will say whether you plead guilty or no contest, but it does show up for record purposes. Unfortunately, there is currently no way to wipe these pleas off your record.
If you plead First Offender, under Conditional Discharge, participated in a Pretrial Diversion Program, or had your charges dropped, then there is usually the possibility of record restriction (commonly referred to as expungement). Having your record restricted is key, as most public employers will not be able to see the charges. Keep in mind, other governmental agencies, certain employers like those in child care, and licensing authorities may have more access to your record than you think. For example, when applying to be an attorney, the state agency responsible asks for disclosure of all charges, no matter what the outcome. Still, if you have charges that are eligible to be restricted from your record, you'd be a fool to let them stay there a day longer than necessary.
Step 3: Pull your history and see for yourself
If you have been arrested and are not 100% sure about how your charges ended up, then it's time to do a record check. In Georgia, you can go to any local police department or Sheriff's office and they will do a background check for around $20.00. Keep in mind, this will be Georgia only. To see arrests from other states, you would have to go through the FBI and pull your national criminal history.
If your record comes back with a hit you were not expecting, then you know it's time to do something about it. If things are properly sealed or restricted, then they should give you a sheet showing no record was found. Keep in mind that in today's internet driver world, companies and magazines now pull new arrests directly from jails. Just Busted is a magazine that comes to mind. If you are showing on one of these sites, help maybe on the way in the form of laws governing these companies' often rogue and unfair play. Trying to get a mug shot or arrest information removed from Google can be like playing 'whack a mole' with these companies. However, if your record is eligible for restriction in Georgia's database, that is the first step in forcing these companies to remove your information.
Finally, if you have any questions or just want to check up on your record's health, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I have included some useful links below for your record research.