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Sealing and Expunging Criminal Records in Alabama

A criminal record is a public record in Alabama. Therefore, it has the potential to inflict reputational damage to the person named in it. Such damage may extend as far as the withdrawal of certain social rights or the inability to get employment in a profession of one’s choice. This is because most government and private agencies in the state carry out criminal history checks for current and prospective employees. It is a welcome relief to these persons that there are ways to have their records removed from public access. The Alabama legal system allows eligible convicted persons and vulnerable victims to have their records removed from public access upon request.

The Difference Between Sealing and Expunging Criminal Records Alabama

Sealing a record in Alabama is a process that restricts access to a criminal record. Anyone outside of the eligibility list will require a warrant or court order to access it. Eligible persons include the person named in the record, their attorneys, court authorities, and law enforcement agencies. The legality of a record remains valid even though it is barred from public disclosure.

Expunging a record is a much more permanent process. When a record is expunged, the offender is absolved of all responsibility for a criminal past. Expungement removes the records from all sources except at the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center. The center keeps a confidential copy accessible only to the legal, law enforcement, and selected government agencies.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching more straightforward, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that the person resides in or was accused in

Third-party sites are independent of government sources and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

How To Seal a Criminal Record in Alabama

In Alabama, some adult criminal history may not be eligible for sealing or restriction from public disclosure. However, juvenile records may pass for sealing, only if the offense is not the equivalent of a felony in adult parlance. Most of them qualify for automatic sealing. There are exceptions to this rule when the court needs to protect the case from public influence, impeding fair trial. Also, certain parts of a criminal record that the law interprets as confidential go under seal. They include eyewitness information and contact details of victims.

To seal a record, eligible persons must file a petition with the court that has current jurisdiction of the case. The petition must contain reasons for the request according to state law. The court receives the request and reviews it in a court hearing. If the benefits of privacy outweigh that of public knowledge, then the petition is approved. All associated information undergoes removal from public access. After that, only eligible persons or those with a court order can access them.

What Crimes Can Be Expunged in Alabama?

A general guideline for determining which crimes can get an expungement in Alabama is that they must be non-violent felonies. For misdemeanor charges, they must meet the following requirements:

  • Must have received a prejudiced dismissal
  • Did not get billed by a grand jury
  • Was not guilty of the charges
  • Obtained a non-prejudiced dismissal over two years ago during which the defendant did not get a conviction for any other violation.

Non-violent felony charges must meet the following requirements:

  • Dismissal with prejudice;
  • Not billed by the grand jury;
  • Not convicted of the charges;
  • After completing court diversion programs, Dismissals are Drug Court, Mental health Court, and Veterans Court deferred prosecution programs. There is a one year window period after which applications are eligible;
  • Non-prejudiced dismissal over five years ago during which there are no additional convictions or pending investigation;
  • Three-month-old prejudiced dismissals, acquittals, nolle prosequi, no bills or re-filings.

How To Expunge Criminal Records in Alabama

The following documents are necessary to begin an expungement process:

  • A certified criminal history record from the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency
  • Any of the following:
    • a certified record of the case action summary
    • a certified record of the disposition from the relevant court
    • a certified record of arrest from the relevant law enforcement agency pertaining to the case.

Note that convictions cannot be expunged in Alabama.

Getting a certified criminal history record from the Alabama law enforcement agency will require filling out the Section C of the Expungement kit and submitting it along with:

  • An official state of fingerprints obtained from the ALEA or a local law enforcement agency;
  • A copy of the applicant photo ID;
  • $25 fee payment. Additional copies attract $5 each.

The expungement kit contains a list of forms that are user friendly in the application for an expungement. Read the instructions carefully and follow the directions.

Do Sealed Records Show Up In Alabama Background Checks?

No. Sealed records are invisible when searching public records remotely. As such, eligible persons or those with a court order must visit the court of current jurisdiction to access the documents. Except for licensing authorities and professional bodies, most employers will not see a sealed record.

Who Can See Sealed Criminal Records in Alabama?

Most private employers may not have access to records placed under seal except for those involved in health, law, military, education, and other sensitive service areas. Government agencies have access to them, especially when conducting investigations. Statutorily allowed court staff and law enforcement agencies also have access to these records.

How To Get Sealed Records in Alabama

To get sealed records in Alabama, eligible and interested persons must file a petition with the court handling the case. If the requestor meets all eligibility requirements, then the requested records will be released; otherwise, the requestor will be required to present a court order. A court challenges the decision of the court to seal the record. If the court decides that the petition has merit, the judge then issues a court order for that individual to access the records. Another way to get sealed records is to wait for the sealing order to expire. All records under seal have a validity period, outside which they become accessible. Those with a lifetime validity period may be accessed through other means.

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