Motions to Seal in Washington, D.C.


When you were in grade school the idea that misbehaving could be put on your permanent record was a scary one. For most of us, the threat of a bad permanent record was enough to keep us in line. By the time we graduated high school, most of us had figured out that there was no such thing as a “permanent record” and realized that our school district had been tricking us that whole time. In the real world, however, there is such a thing as a “permanent record” and it is not a joke. It’s your criminal record.

In the District of Columbia, as with anywhere in the United States, when you are arrested, your criminal record is updated to reflect this. Even if you are never convicted or even charged with the crime you were arrested for, your criminal record will still show that you were arrested. Your criminal record is public information and an arrest, charge, or conviction could have negative effects on your life. Academic institutions could deny you admission, employers could revoke job offers, and landlords could refuse to rent to you.

Everyone makes mistakes and sometimes those mistakes result in being arrested. Sometimes the police even make mistakes and arrest a completely innocent person. Whether you’re a college student who tried to get into a bar with a fake ID, you’re a political aide who misjudged how drunk they were and drove, or you’re a small business owner who broke some other law, a one-time mistake by you or the police should not haunt you for the rest of your life. Luckily, an arrest in the District of Columbia does not have to follow you forever. An experienced attorney can help block your arrest or conviction from the public’s prying eyes by filing a Motion to Seal.

In the District of Columbia, D.C. Code §16-802 and §16-803 lay out three types of Motions to Seal: Sealing of Criminal Records on Grounds of Actual Innocence, Sealing of Criminal Records with No Conviction, and Sealing of Criminal Records with a Conviction.

Sealing of Criminal Records on Grounds of Actual Innocence

So, you were arrested or charged with the commission of a criminal offense, misdemeanor or felony, which you did not commit. If that arrest or charge did not end in you being convicted, you have the option to file a Motion to Seal on Grounds of Actual Innocence. In this Motion, the burden is on the movant, your lawyer that is, to establish that you did not commit the offense you were arrested for or charged with.

Timing is of the essence in these types of Motions, so it is always better to get this done sooner rather than later. In the District of Columbia, if you file this type of Motion within four years of the prosecution being terminated, your lawyer will only need to satisfy the burden of evidence by a preponderance of the evidence. This means that your lawyer will only need to convince the judge that there is a greater than 50% chance that your claim is true.

If you wait more than four years to file this Motion, the burden of evidence becomes a little harder to overcome, but with the right lawyer it still will not be an issue. If more than four years have passed since prosecution of your arrest or charge was terminated, your lawyer will need to satisfy the burden by introducing clear and convincing evidence. This means that your lawyer will need to convince the judge that the evidence of your innocence is highly and substantially more likely to be true than untrue.

Sealing of Criminal Records with No Conviction

Even those who are convicted of a misdemeanor or felony deserve to have their records sealed once they have completed their sentence. The goal of punishment in the DC penal system is to rehabilitate those who have been convicted so they can effectively re-enter society. In the District of Columbia, if you have been convicted of an eligible misdemeanor or felony, you must wait eight years after the completion of your sentence before filing a Motion to Seal. In those eight years, you must not have a disqualifying arrest or conviction.

Most laws, both state and federal, are written in confusing legalese, and the DC Code is no different. These are the basic outlines of how Motions to Seal works in our city. To fully understand the other little stipulations, including what qualifies as an eligible misdemeanor or felony, consulting with a proven lawyer is your best option. If you think you are eligible to have your criminal record sealed or are not sure and want to find out, please contact an attorney at Scrofano Law. We have years of experience working with the judges and clerks of the DC Courts and have successfully moved for the sealing of the criminal records of hundreds of individuals. Having a criminal record can negatively impact your life; choosing the right lawyer to work on your behalf can make a world of difference.

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