Expungement is the process of erasing or eliminating information from somebody’s permanent criminal record. This means that if someone does a search through your background for whatever reason, the law treats the crime as if it never occurred at all, and you are under no obligation to admit such. 

Sealing your record means that the general public will not be able to access all or part of a criminal record when they are searching through a person’s history. The record will still exist, but the law severely limits who can access it. Although the terms may seem interchangeable, there are some important differences between them. Here is a short guide to both expunging and sealing your records in Colorado. 

What is Juvenile Expungement?

Expungement is a rare occurrence in Colorado, and it is only granted to juveniles in limited circumstances. To have a juvenile record expunged, the petitioner can file a request with the District Court. If it is granted, the law essentially pretends that the record never existed in the first place. 

However, there are some crimes that cannot be expunged, even when a juvenile is involved. For instance, if someone is adjudicated as an aggravated or violent offender, or commits a sexual offense, the court will refuse to expunge their record. 

Can You Seal Your Criminal Record as an Adult?

Expungement is not available to adults or juveniles charged as adults. Instead, Colorado gives a select group of individuals the opportunity to seal their records. If someone’s record is sealed, the public will not be able to view any information related to those charges without a signed court order, which is not easily obtained. The authorities may still access these records, but only under certain circumstances. 

Colorado law has strict guidelines for who can and who cannot petition for record sealing, which generally fall into these categories:

  • No conviction: If the case against you was dismissed, the charges against you dropped and the statute of limitations has run, or you were found not guilty in a court of law, you can petition to have these records sealed from public records. A dismissal earned via a plea bargain is not eligible for sealing, but completion of a diversionary program (like drug court, for example) is eligible, as are cases of mistaken identity. In addition, any arrests or other records of drunk driving, class A or B traffic violations, class 1 or 2 misdemeanor traffic offenses, and any record earned while operating a vehicle with a commercial driver’s license (CDL) is not eligible; 
  • Drug Offenses: In Colorado, many individuals convicted under certain controlled substances laws can also petition for their record to be sealed. If a certain amount of time (usually ten years) passes without any subsequent legal issues after an individual has served their time and satisfied all the requirements of a probationary period, sealing the record is a possibility. It is important to note that if a violent crime is perpetrated along with the drug-related offense, sealing might not be a possibility;
  • Sex-Trafficking Victims: Many sex-related crimes are eligible for record sealing, including prostitution charges and other crimes that trafficking victims often accumulate during that time in their lives; and
  • Misdemeanor And Municipal Offenses: Violations of city ordinances and other minor/petty offenses and misdemeanors are eligible for sealing as well. After three years with no subsequent legal trouble after all legal proceedings, courts will hear petitions to seal these types of records. Any violations made while operating under a CDL are not eligible here.

How Do I Begin the Sealing/Expungement Process?

Most Colorado courts have the appropriate forms for juvenile expungement or record sealing either online, on site, or both. However, you should consult with a criminal defense attorney before filing anything. An experienced attorney will be able to tell you if your record is eligible for sealing under Colorado law, and will know where (which court/jurisdiction) to file your petition to save time and avoid any rejections. 

In addition, many offenses only allow for a certain number of petitions in a certain amount of time (for example, juveniles looking to expunge their records can only do so once every 12 months), so having the most complete petition with the best evidence can save you a lot of time and stress. They will be your advocate in any hearings to make sure you have the best shot possible at success. 

Will I Need a Colorado Attorney for Help with Expungement?

Yes. Even though the public can access sealing or expungement forms without legal representation, it is critical that you consult with an attorney before taking any steps. Because of the limited opportunities you may have to seal or expunge a record, you may need to hire a criminal lawyer for help with the subject matter. 

Having a lawyer can make all the difference between success and defeat. They can help you file and fill out all the necessary paperwork, submit it to the proper authorities, and be your representative in any court proceeding.