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Removing Criminal Charges From Your Record: It May Not Be What You Think

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Aside from winning your case, few things provide more relief for someone charged with a crime than getting the charge off your record. The process is called expungement.

As with many things in life and the law, expungement is not exactly what it you may assume: it does not immediately erase all evidence of the charge for all purposes. But it does accomplish your most important goal: it keeps evidence of the charge from the general public.

What Expungement Really Means Under South Carolina Law

Expungement is a court order requiring destruction of all records of a crime, but there are some exceptions. Despite the exceptions, the order requires immediate removal of all records accessible by the public. A few points on that:

  • The records destroyed include: arrest and booking records, bench warrants, mug shots, fingerprints, evidence, and related police reports.
  • Internet public records of the charge must be removed. Within 30 days from the expungement order, the charge must be removed from any Internet public record, meaning records made available by government-sponsored sites. Of course, it’s possible that individuals may have accessed the public records and downloaded, saved, or printed copies of whatever was found; the expungement order doesn’t order those private copies to be destroyed.
  • Mugshot websites don't automatically remove your mugshot, but they will- if you ask the right way. The law provides a specific procedure to get these sites to take your arrest information off the internet.
  • Exceptions. Law enforcement, prosecution agencies, and jails can keep records for about three years and 120 days. The records must be kept “under seal,” meaning they can only be disclosed to those agencies. Disclosing to someone else requires a court order. Intentional violations are a crime.
  • Exceptions to the exception. Records can remain under seal indefinitely for law enforcement or prosecution purposes and to defend agencies against a lawsuit. If reports are released under the Freedom of Information Act, they must blot out your name and any information specifically identifying you. A co-defendant’s lawyer can get them without your name and identifying information removed, but he cannot share them with anyone except during judicial proceedings or as allowed by court order. Finally, the state police (South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, or SLED) keeps a non-public record to be sure no one tries to expunge later charges after an expungement they could only get once.

Not every crime qualifies for expungement, as we have discussed in other recent articles. But every crime that ends in a win for the defense is! If you’re charged with a crime and wondering whether you’ll ever get out from under it, call us at 864.582.0416 or toll-free at 888.230.1841 for a free meeting to discuss your defenses and the hope of getting it off your record.

 

Rob Usry
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Rob is a South Carolina personal injury and criminal defense lawyer.
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