Sometimes it is possible to officially overlook mistakes, at least when it comes to entanglements with the criminal justice system.
Laws governing record sealing and expungement—wo maneuvers that prevent the public from reviewing official criminal records—vary from state to state. Utah allows speedy corrections for those who were falsely accused and great leeway for first-time offenders, though waiting periods can be lengthy in some instances.
Why Seek Record Sealing?
Sealing public records prevents most people from ever reviewing the information in the records, while under expungement, the documents and files themselves are destroyed. Utah permits record sealing in a number of situations, and expungement eventually happens in many cases as part of a state program through which many records eventually are destroyed after a period of time prescribed under law.
Sealing a record is not, however, an ironclad guarantee that the information never will be revealed. Utah allows state law enforcement agencies and federal authorities broad access to sealed documents. The state Board of Education and various professional licensing agencies are permitted access as well, and the state Bureau of Criminal Identification can use the information in determining whether to issue concealed-weapons permits. But landlords and the overwhelming majority of nongovernment employers will not have access to the information as they conduct routine records searches, and those whose records have been sealed records legally are entitled to respond "none" if they are asked about arrests or convictions.
What Records Can Be Sealed?
Any non-conviction can be sealed quickly after the case is dismissed, dropped or acquitted in Utah, and juvenile records can be sealed if the subject is older than 18 and a year has passed since the case's final resolution. Most first-time convictions can be sealed, though the waiting period after final resolution ranges from three to 10 years. Absent a pardon the state will never seal some offenses, including:
- Violent felonies
- Records of anyone legally declared a habitual offender
- Automobile-related homicides
- Felony driving under the influence
- Crimes registrable as sex offenses
Juvenile records also are ineligible for expungement if they contain violent felonies such as murder or if the offense was adjudicated in adult court.
What Is the Process for Sealing Records?
The process begins by filing a request for a "certificate of eligibility" with the Bureau of Criminal Identification. Granting the certificate is a lengthy process that requires the bureau to comb through all arrest records, including ones that were sealed previously, to determine the outcome of the case.
Once the certificate is granted, it is good for only 90 days so an "application for expungement" must be filed quickly with the court in which the case was handled. There are fees for both the certificate and for the application, though the fee for the certificate is waived if the applicant is seeking to seal an incident that did not result in a conviction.
The prosecutor and any victims involved in the case will be notified of the application and will be given the chance to object. The judge can ask the Division of Adult Probation and Parole to investigate, and the judge also can hold a hearing. If no one objects to the sealing, it can be granted 60 days after the request is filed. It then is up to the petitioner to deliver certified copies of the judge's order to any agency that holds any records in the case.
In Utah, those who receive pardons are in turn eligible to ask that those records be sealed. The pardon application packet has extensive requirements, however, and clemency rarely is granted.
Seeking Legal Counsel
This article offers a broad look at the record-sealing procedure in Utah. For legal advice or help in determining whether your case is eligible, consult a local attorney.