Colorado law allows a person to hide many criminal records from the public under state law through expungement or sealing, if certain requirements are met.
Expunging or sealing records can be a very detailed process and may or may not be effective to meet a person’s goals. This is especially true with the major changes made to the state expungement and sealing laws effective August 2019. We can help students understand the process and effect of expunging or sealing their records. We also can often be hired to represent students in making expungement or sealing requests.
Expungement is available in Colorado for many types of juvenile – generally meaning under the age of 18 – justice records. Even juvenile "convictions" (actually called adjudications) can be expunged if the criteria are met. Expungement can also apply to underage drinking and driving convictions, even if a person was between 18 and 21 years old at the time of the offense. Some cases cannot be expunged, like those where juveniles were adjudicated for felony sex offenses or very violent crimes.
Sealing is the adult method of hiding criminal records in Colorado. It is generally available for criminal records that are not associated with a conviction, such as when all charges filed in a case were dismissed or when a defendant is acquitted of all charges at trial.
There are a few exceptions to this rule. Some cases can never be sealed even if no convictions are associated with them, such as cases in which the only charges were traffic infractions or cases which were dismissed after deferred judgments and sentences to certain charges.
Many cases can also qualify for sealing even though there are convictions associated with them, including convictions for:
- Most minor in possession charges
- Most municipal offenses
- Some petty offenses and misdemeanors
- Some lower level felonies
Typically, a person must wait a long period of time before asking the court to seal qualifying conviction records. The length of the waiting period depends on the type of case. A person must also sometimes wait to seal records related to dismissed cases or investigations that did not result in charges.
Process of expungement or sealing
There are many requirements for both expungements and sealings and they are strictly enforced. If a request to hide records is denied for some reason, the person will likely have to wait a long period of time before being allowed to make the request again.
It can take anywhere from several days to several months to go through the process of asking the court to seal records. The timeline depends on the type of records and the court that has jurisdiction over those records.
Effect of expungement or sealing
Expungement or sealing of criminal records in Colorado generally hides those records from public view and authorizes a limited right to make certain statements about the records.
Expungement or sealing under Colorado law is not effective as to certain government and private entities, and neither procedure makes the records disappear. In addition, expunged and sealed records can still be used in court.
Be aware that, under certain circumstances, sealed records may later be “unsealed.”