Is Your Private Business Public?
In the interest of public safety and transparency in the court system, many court records, including records of criminal convictions, are part of the public record. To make matter worse, private companies compile public records from courts all over the U.S. and sell the information online. Almost anyone can run a background check through one of these companies with just a few pieces of information about you. Many people don't want their private business in the public record, but, unfortunately, there isn't much you can do about it.
To better understand what information about your criminal background is publically available, you should know that there is more than one way to access such information. Most court proceedings, including criminal proceedings, are a matter of public record. As such, any person can go to the court and ask the court clerk for access to those records. The public can also access information about someone's criminal background through a background check. These are more comprehensive and are not court specific, meaning they can display information from convictions from different courts. The checks typically pull information from the public record but aren't considered protected public records themselves.
There are different types of background checks. Each type of background check may pull information from the public record, but some—such as consumer reports—only pull certain pieces of information. Rap sheets, which are a more thorough record of your criminal history, are typically only used for governmental purposes, meaning their access is restricted. These records are quite thorough and are used by law enforcement agencies, courts, government agencies, and some governmental employers.
The public, including anyone from a potential landlord or employer to a potential new partner, can typically access consumer background check reports with ease. Consumer reporting agencies compile these reports using public records, but the law limits what information they can include in the report. In most cases, negative information older than seven years cannot be included in such a report, but criminal convictions are an exception.
It might seem unfair that information about your criminal background is easily accessible by the public, but you have some rights. You have a right to know what is in your background check and to dispute any inaccuracies. You also have a right to know when information within your report is being held against you. For example, if you are denied a job or rental housing because of what shows up on your background check, you have a right to know that that information is being held against you.
You also have a right to restrict employers' access to your consumer background check. Employers must get written permission from employees and potential employees before running a consumer background check. Thus, you will be notified before an employer takes a look at your past. Despite this right, however, employers have a right to deny you employment if you refuse to allow them to run a background check. So, while you can prevent an employer from running a background check, you are not protected from the consequences of such a choice.
It's also important to keep in mind that the records these companies compile may or may not be up to date and accurate. Thus, if you are interested in cleaning your record to remove certain pieces of information from the public record—and therefore limit the information these companies can sell—make sure you request a copy of your record after you complete the expungement process. It can take several months for a company to update its records, during which time your dismissed conviction or arrest record could remain accessible to the public. You have a right to request a copy of your record and correct any inaccuracies, but never assume the information on your record is accurate.
Cleaning your record can bring you many benefits, one of the most important of which is limiting the kind of information about your criminal background the public can access. But the expungement process can be complicated and involve many steps. You should—at the very least—consult with a California attorney with experience in record cleaning. An attorney can explain the expungement process and help you decide whether it is the right choice for you. An attorney can also walk you through the process step by step, giving you the best chance at getting your conviction dismissed.
If you want to clean your record, contact attorney Christopher Martens and his legal team for help in Tulare, Fresno or Kings County. Experienced in criminal defense, our Visalia area legal team can advocate on your behalf in court and can help you clean your record to minimize the impact on your life. Attorney Martens has over ten years experience in criminal defense and won't be afraid to take your case all the way to trial. Call our Visalia or Hanford, CA offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] for a free consultation.