November 28, 2018
How can I get rid of my Georgia criminal record?
It’s easy to get a criminal record in Georgia. Unfortunately, it is far easier than most of us would like to think. Many people are charged with a variety of offenses, from minor misdemeanors to serious felonies, and, due to decisions to delay hiring qualified counsel or perhaps even due to poor representation, they make choices to enter pleas that have lasting and often permanent consequences.
Although none of us would like to think that any innocent person would ever enter a guilty plea, this happens extremely frequently. It may be because the cost of fighting a charge is too expensive in either money or time, or perhaps because the risk of what could happen in a loss at trial is too great. However, in Georgia, with few exceptions under the law, a conviction is permanent. This means that potential employers and other interested parties can easily access this information in a background check and cause problems long after the incident has been “resolved” as far as the courts are concerned.
It is far more difficult to get rid of a criminal record than it is to get one in the first place. Georgia law has provisions for record restriction, which at one time was referred to as expungement. Many people still believe that expungement is the correct term, but as of July 1, 2013, record restriction is not only the more legally accurate term, but the more factually accurate term. Criminal records are never completely destroyed or made to disappear. Instead, they are restricted as to who can access them and how.
When a record is properly restricted, criminal history printouts, commonly known as a GCIC report, will not display an arrest and certain negative entries can only be viewed by law enforcement. Thus, a background check for a job would not reveal the charge or arrest. Once again, the fact that a conviction took place 5 years ago, 10 years ago, or 40 years ago does not mean that the record can be restricted. We are often contacted by people who cannot recall the details of the charge or disposition due to the amount of time that has passed since the case was closed, and thus the first step in every situation with respect to record restriction is for the client to actually get a copy of his or her criminal history (GCIC). From there, we can pull records from the court as needed and provide all the necessary information to determine if a record can be restricted.
It is only natural for people to want to put what can be an embarrassing or difficult situation behind them quickly. For this reason, people will enter pleas in court to shoplifting charges, domestic violence charges, DUIs, or a host of other offenses without fully taking into consideration all of the ramifications of such a decision. Even when the rights they are waiving are expressed to them in court, in the absence of a discussion with a qualified attorney, the pressure on people can make it difficult for them to feel comfortable enough asking questions. Of course, the courts cannot give legal advice of any sort even if a defendant asks questions during a plea. However, such questions can alert the court that more time may be necessary for the defendant to communicate and/or hire counsel.
When someone is charged with a criminal offense, even minor offenses, it is always best to immediately contact a lawyer, or several lawyers, so that he or she can be properly advised of what the process will look like, what decisions will have to be made and when, what rights he or she has throughout, and what defenses are available to him or her. Do not find yourself asking about record restriction or expungement only at the time of applying for your dream job. You owe it to yourself to prevent causing permanent damage whenever it can be avoided.