If you have a police record, you might wonder how long that criminal record will exist. The answer is that it depends. Generally, criminal records are available to police until a person dies or is declared not guilty of a crime. But there are exceptions. Different states have guidelines for how offenders may be able to have their criminal records expunged, or erased. And juvenile offenders' records are often expunged on the juvenile's 18th birthday if certain conditions are met.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation's Criminal Justice Information Services division has a database of about 60 million people who have been arrested for crimes all over the United States. The database includes offenders' fingerprints and criminal records. About 95 percent of America's local and state police agencies add criminal records to the national database, FBI spokesman Steve Fischer said. Providing police records to the database is voluntary.
Expungement From the National Database
Fischer said records are erased from the FBI database under certain conditions: - A local agency requests that a record be expunged. This happens when criminal charges are dropped, for example. - The FBI receives an offender's death certificate. - 110 years have passed since an offender's date of birth.
Adults' criminal records are publicly available under the federal Freedom of Information Act. Records from juvenile courts are sealed, which means they are not available to the public. Juvenile police records may be expunged on the offender's 18th birthday. Certain conditions, such as good behavior, have to be met. This procedure is in place so one mistake doesn't follow a juvenile for the rest of her life.
Read More: How to Obtain Juvenile Records
Getting Records Expunged
In some U.S. states and counties, an offender can have records of his arrests or convictions expunged. In most cases police records can be erased under certain conditions, like: - How much time has passed since an arrest or conviction. - The severity and nature of the arrest or conviction. - Other parts of an offender's record. Different states' guidelines for getting criminal records expunged are available online.
The National Driver Registry is a database of people who have had their drivers' licenses suspended or revoked, or drivers who have been convicted of serious violations like driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. States check the registry whenever a person applies for a driver's license. A state may deny a driver's license if an applicant's name is in the database. Any problem on a driver's record has to be cleared before a driver can get a license, including a learner's permit. The amount of time this takes depends on how many sanctions are on a driving record and how long it takes to clear the record in each state.
Rebecca VanderMeulen is an award-winning reporter who has interviewed nudists, preschoolers, farmers, college presidents and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. As a newspaper reporter in Pennsylvania, she wrote about school and municipal issues, higher education and many other topics.