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Do Expunged Records Show Up On Fingerprinting?

Cover graphic for a discussion on expunged records and fingerprinting, featuring fingerprint icons and text boxes that delve into the nuances of how expunged records may be treated in various background check scenarios.


When a criminal record is expunged, it is sealed or erased in the eyes of the law, which theoretically gives the individual a fresh start. However, whether expunged records show up on fingerprinting during background checks can vary based on several factors, including the type of background check and the specific laws in the jurisdiction where the expungement occurred. Understanding these nuances is crucial for individuals with expunged records, especially when applying for jobs, licenses, or other situations requiring a background check.

Understanding Expungement and Fingerprinting

When it comes to clearing one’s name from past criminal records, expungement plays a critical role. However, the intersection of expungement and fingerprinting can be complex and often leads to confusion. Below, we delve deeper into what expungement entails and how it relates to fingerprinting during background checks.

What is Expungement?

Expungement is a legal process that can provide a clean slate for individuals with past criminal records. Here’s what you need to know:

Educational graphic explaining the definition, purpose, and effectiveness of expungement, with an illustration symbolizing the erasure of a criminal record

  • Legal Definition: Expungement refers to the court-ordered process in which the legal record of an arrest or a criminal conviction is erased or sealed from state or federal databases.
  • Purpose of Expungement: The main goal is to remove the burden of a criminal record, allowing individuals to pursue employment, education, and other opportunities without the stigma of past convictions.
  • Effectiveness: An expunged record is treated as if the arrest or conviction never occurred, ideally removing it from the individual’s criminal history and public record.

Fingerprinting for Background Checks

Fingerprinting is a method used to verify identity and check for criminal histories. Here’s how it works:

Visual breakdown of the role of fingerprinting in background checks, detailing its use as an identification method, for database comparisons, and its application in the background check process.

  • Identification Tool: Fingerprinting captures the unique patterns on an individual’s fingertips to identify them.
  • Database Comparison: These fingerprints are compared against databases to find any criminal records associated with the individual.
  • Use in Background Checks: Employers, landlords, and government agencies often use fingerprinting to conduct thorough background checks for security and safety reasons

State Variations in Expunged Record Visibility

Expungement laws and the visibility of expunged records can vary significantly from state to state, affecting whether these records show up on fingerprint background checks. Understanding these variations is crucial for individuals seeking expungement or those who have already had their records expunged. Here’s a detailed look at how different states handle expunged records and fingerprinting:

Key Differences in State Laws

  • Expungement vs. Sealing: Some states offer expungement, which typically means the record is completely erased, while others may only seal the record, making it inaccessible to the public but still available to certain government agencies25.
  • Access by Law Enforcement and Government Agencies: In many states, even after expungement, sealed records might still be accessible to law enforcement agencies for certain purposes, such as subsequent criminal investigations or for security clearance background checks..

Examples of State-Specific Regulations

Comparative infographic showing different state regulations on expunged records in California, Indiana, Oklahoma, and Kentucky, highlighting the nuances in privacy and law enforcement access.

  • California: In California, expunged records are generally not visible to the public but can appear in background checks conducted for certain positions, such as those involving children or vulnerable adults.
  • Indiana: Indiana law allows for the sealing of records, which means they are not visible to the public but can still be accessed by law enforcement under specific conditions. This state also allows for the expungement of arrest records if no charges were filed, or charges were dismissed.
  • Oklahoma: In Oklahoma, the type of expungement dictates who can see the record. A full record expungement generally removes the record from public view and government databases, although law enforcement may access it under certain conditions.
  • Kentucky: Kentucky allows for the expungement of certain felony convictions under specific conditions. Once expunged, these records are not supposed to appear in most background checks, although they may still be accessible to certain government agencies for specific purposes.

Impact on Fingerprint Background Checks

  • Federal vs. State Checks: While state laws govern the removal of records from state databases, federal databases like the FBI’s NCIC may still retain these records unless specifically removed. This means that in states where expunged records are not automatically removed from federal databases, they may appear in fingerprint background checks conducted at the federal level.
  • Employment and Licensing: For jobs that require a federal background check or a high level of security clearance, expunged records might still be visible despite state laws. This includes positions in law enforcement, positions that involve working with vulnerable populations, and some federal government roles

Will Expunged Records Appear on Fingerprint Background Checks?

When you have a record expunged, it’s understandable to question whether this action truly removes all traces of your past encounters with the law, especially when it comes to fingerprint background checks. Let’s break down the key areas to consider:

Informational graphic outlining the impact of expungement on fingerprint background checks, with a focus on state versus federal databases, employment and licensing, and legal variations by state.

State vs. Federal Databases

  • State-Level Expungement: Generally, expunged records are removed from state criminal databases, which means they should not appear in state-level background checks.
  • Federal-Level Complications: The FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) is a federal database that may retain records even after expungement at the state level. This can result in expunged records appearing during background checks that access the NCIC.
  • Communication Between Databases: Sometimes, there’s a lag in communication between state and federal databases regarding expungements, which can lead to discrepancies in what information is shown.

Employment and Licensing

  • Private and State Employment: For most private sector jobs and state government positions, an expunged record should not show up if the employer conducts the check through state or private databases.
  • Federal Employment: Jobs with the federal government or those requiring a federal security clearance may still have access to expunged records through federal databases.
  • Sensitive Positions: Roles involving vulnerable populations, such as working with children or older populations, may require more in-depth checks that could reveal expunged records.

      Legal Variations by State

Infographic contrasting expungement versus sealing of records and the varying levels of access by law enforcement across different states.

  • State-Specific Laws: The impact of expungement can vary widely by state, with some states having more stringent laws about the removal and non-disclosure of expunged records.
  • Agreements with Federal Agencies: Some states have agreements with federal agencies to ensure that expunged records are also removed from federal databases, but this is not universal.
  • Understanding Your Rights: It’s crucial to know your state’s laws regarding expungement to fully understand your rights and the potential visibility of your expunged record.

Key Points to Remember

Colorful infographic detailing three critical aspects of expungement and background checks: lack of absolute guarantees, potential employer access, and the role of private background check companies.

  • No Absolute Guarantees: While expungement aims to clear your record, it does not guarantee that your record will be invisible in all background checks, especially those that access federal databases.
  • Potential Employer Access: Depending on the job and the level of background check required, potential employers may still be able to see expunged records.
  • Private Background Check Companies: These companies may not always update their records promptly, which could lead to expunged records appearing in their background checks

Key Considerations and Steps to Take

If you have had your record expunged, it’s crucial to take proactive steps to ensure that your past convictions do not unexpectedly surface during background checks. Here are detailed actions you can take to manage your expunged record effectively:

Venn diagram infographic presenting key considerations for managing an expunged record, including checking your record, seeking legal consultation, and staying informed about the law.

Check Your Record

  • Request Your Criminal History: You can request a copy of your criminal history from the FBI to see what information is still available. This is done through an Identity History Summary Check, often referred to as a “rap sheet.”
  • How to Request: Visit the FBI’s official website and follow the instructions for submitting a request. This process typically involves submitting fingerprints and paying a processing fee.
  • Review for Accuracy: Once you receive your history, check it carefully for any errors or inconsistencies, especially regarding your expunged records. If your expunged record still appears, this could indicate that the expungement was not fully processed in all databases.

Legal Consultation

  • Find a Specialized Attorney: Consult with a legal professional who specializes in expungement and criminal law in your state. They can provide tailored advice based on your specific situation.
  • Legal Advice on Handling Records: An attorney can guide you on how to ensure that your expunged record is properly handled across different databases, including steps to take if your expunged record incorrectly appears on your rap sheet.
  • Ongoing Legal Support: Legal professionals can also help you navigate issues that arise and assist in further clearing your record if necessary.

Stay Informed

  • Monitor Law Changes: Laws and policies regarding expungement and background checks can change. Regularly check for updates on state and federal laws that might affect the visibility of your expunged records.
  • Educational Resources: Utilize resources from legal aid organizations, state justice departments, and reputable legal websites to stay informed about your rights and any new developments in expungement procedures.
  • Community Support: Engage with community groups or online forums where individuals share their experiences and advice on managing expunged records.

Conclusion

While expungement is designed to erase records from public view, the process can be complex, particularly when dealing with fingerprinting and federal databases. By taking proactive steps such as checking your criminal history, consulting with legal experts, and staying informed about legal changes, you can better manage your expunged record. These actions are essential to ensure that you can move forward confidently, without your past convictions holding you back.

The information contained in this post is for informational purposes only. It is not legal advice and is provided as is without any guarantee of accuracy. If you need a professional legal opinion, click here to send in your legal request.

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