How To Seal Court Records

If you are missing job opportunities, not getting called back for interviews, or are fired during your probationary period, this might be a sign that a prior arrest or prosecution is showing up on your criminal record.

Michigan Criminal Defense Attorneys - Group

Sealing Michigan Court Records

There are several options for clearing your criminal history, removing an arrest or dismissal from public records, or expunging a conviction; however, getting court records sealed is a different story. Court records are public because of the constitutional right to a speedy and public trial. Although public court records of a felony or misdemeanor charge can do more harm than good, the original concept was to protect American citizens. The idea behind the constitutional right to a public trial is that the government cannot hide abuse of power. If records and court hearings are open to the public, the theory is that the government will be less inclined to proceed with a pretext prosecution. If prior contact with the criminal justice system is holding you back, you are undoubtedly wondering how to seal court records.

Motion to Seal Court Records

In general, courts are prohibited from sealing court records. Specifically, the court rule states, “a court may not enter an order that seals courts records, in whole or in part, any action or proceeding.” For purposes of this rule, “court records” include all documents and records of any nature that are filed with the court clerk and the docket entries. In most cases, the docket entries are what potential employers and background agencies find when investigating a person’s criminal record. However, it is possible to seal court records in some situations.

There is an exception to the rule that prohibits sealing court records. For the exception to apply, there must be an extraordinary reason to seal the record. Unfortunately, missed job opportunities or lost employment might not be viewed as sufficiently extraordinary under the rule. The person requesting sealing of the court record is called “the movant” or “the petitioner.”

To persuade a court to seal a court record, a defense lawyer must file a written motion with the judge assigned to the case. The motion must identify the specific reason why the movant wants the record sealed. The judge will have to decide if the person requesting the sealing of the public record has shown “good cause” justifying the relief and that there are no less restrictive means to adequately and effectively protect that person’s interests.

As previously mentioned, the public has a constitutional right to access court records and view court proceedings. The public’s interest in open court proceedings is critical because it protects the public from governmental abuse of power. When determining if the movant has shown good cause, the judge must weigh that person’s interest versus the public’s interest. Because of these competing interests, some lawyers have difficulty figuring out how to seal court records.

A Backdoor Way to “Seal” Court Records

A person’s criminal history is easier to discover than individual court records. For a small payment, virtually anyone can discover any person’s criminal history. Employers and background companies often locate court records because courts fail to properly communicate or transmit information to the Michigan State Police (MSP). The State Police are required to remove records of a charge on a person’s criminal history if the charge did not result in a conviction. When there is a dismissal in court, the clerk is supposed to transmit a record of the dismissal to the Michigan State Police. Regrettably, clerks fail to do this regularly, and the record remains public. Additionally, if the clerk transmits anything other than data that exactly matches the State Police records, the records clerk at MSP will not remove the record of the charges. If you ask a court clerk how to seal court records, it is unlikely they will go out of their way to be helpful.

When an arrest or charge is improperly showing up on MSP records, a lawyer can file a petition with the State Police to fix the records or, if necessary, file a motion with the trial court to force the clerk to send the information required to get MSP’s records corrected.

Expungement is an Alternative – Motion to Set Aside Conviction

In Michigan, a person can seek to expunge or eliminate one or more convictions from their criminal history. After April 12, 2021, up to three felony offenses and an unlimited number of misdemeanors can be expunged through the application process. Multiple felony offenses that occur within 24 hours and are part of the same incident are considered one felony. If a person has more than three felony convictions, a judge is precluded from ordering expungement, also known as setting aside a conviction. The defendant will not have to seal court records if a conviction is expunged. To be eligible for expungement, the defendant must wait a minimum time period following sentencing, the end of probation, or release from jail, whichever is the latest. The length of the waiting period is as follows:

  • One Felony Conviction or a Serious Misdemeanor – Five (5) years
  • Multiple Felony Convictions – Seven (7) years
  • Unlimited Misdemeanors – Three (3) years

Although the Clean Slate Expungement Laws permit expungement or setting aside multiple convictions, the technicalities of the law, the exceptions, and the exclusions are now much more complicated. Follow this link for additional information on Expungements or Motions to Set Aside Convictions.

Michigan Criminal Defense Attorney

Attorneys Who Can Help You Clear Your Criminal History

The attorneys with LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. have decades of experience successfully helping clients avoid convictions and get them removed from their criminal history. We have successfully argued for court records to be sealed. We have also successfully persuaded judges to order court clerks to correct records and properly communicate with MSP. In other cases, we’ve been able to get countless judges to order the expungement of convictions, even in some of the most challenging, sensitive, and complex cases. If some event in your past haunts you and you are looking for a fresh start with a clean slate, call us for a free consultation. We will take the time to talk with you, answer your questions, and address your concerns. If there is a way to help you, we will find it.

Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation or complete an online Request for Assistance Form. We will contact you promptly and find a way to help you.

We will find a way to help you and, most importantly,
we are not afraid to win!

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