How Long Do Arrests Stay on Your Record

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Individuals who have faced arrest, charges, or convictions for criminal offenses often wonder how long their records will continue to appear on a criminal background check, potentially affecting their chances of employment, housing, and migration.

Many believe that over time, their record will be fully expunged. Conversely, some fear that even arrests without convictions or minor charges could remain on their record indefinitely.

This article aims to clarify the myths surrounding criminal records and provide insight into how long you can expect an arrest, charge, or conviction to be detected during checks by employers, border officials, or other government agencies.

Quick Answer: How Long Do Arrests Stay on Your Record?

In the United States, information relating to arrests, charges, and criminal convictions stays on the record indefinitely by default and is accessible to those with the correct authorization. In some states, however, criminal records can be sealed or expunged in certain circumstances.

What is an Arrest Record?

Arrest records contain information about an individual’s interactions with law enforcement agencies. If someone is arrested for any reason, details will be recorded in the arrest record, such as the date, time, location of the arrest, and the nature of the crimes that someone is suspected of committing. Arrest records tend to be publicly accessible.

A criminal record, on the other hand, is more comprehensive and contains detailed information about whether someone has been charged with and convicted of a crime, as well as what sentence was handed down to them by a court. These records don’t tend to be publicly available but are accessible to a wide range of consumer reference agencies, law enforcement agencies, and other government bodies.

What Is the 7-Year Rule?

A common myth in the US is that criminal records are automatically cleared seven years after an arrest, charge, or conviction. This is not true.

The myth probably originates from the fact that in some circumstances, arrests that did not lead to a conviction cannot be reported by consumer reference agencies on background checks to potential employers if 7 years have passed since. There is also a wide range of state laws that prevent convictions from being shared with employers after a period of 7-10 years.

It is important to note that these rules only apply to background checks conducted by prospective employers through consumer reference agencies (CRAs) and not to the Police, FBI, and border officials with access to central police databases (more on that below).

Many states do, however, now have ‘clean slate laws’ that aim to automatically expunge or seal records after a certain period of time. They tend to apply to misdemeanor offenses or other non-violent crimes and currently exist in Pennsylvania, Utah, New Jersey, Michigan, Connecticut, Delaware, Virginia, Oklahoma, Colorado, California, Minnesota, and New York.

By employing the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney, applications can be made for arrest and conviction records to be sealed or expunged even in states where clean slate laws do not exist.

Impact of Arrest Records on International Travel

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) has access to the United States National Crime Information Center’s (NCIC) criminal database, which is linked with all federal, tribal, state, and local law enforcement agencies in the US.

This means that Canadian border officials can subject any American attempting to cross the border into Canada to criminal background checks, and past criminal charges can result in being deemed inadmissible.

Many US states also share their DMV records with Canada, meaning non-criminal driving infractions can also show up on background checks at the border.

Given the continuous sharing of this type of information, even sealed or expunged criminal records could potentially lead to an assessment that someone is criminally inadmissible to enter Canada. This applies even in cases where someone’s criminal history consists of what are regarded as relatively minor crimes in their home country.

Canadian law generally treats crimes that involve driving when they were committed as serious offenses – including Driving Under the Influence (DUI), Operating While Intoxicated (OWI), or Driving While Impaired (DWI). Even a misdemeanor conviction in the US could, therefore, have big consequences when it comes to international travel.

Expungement and Record Sealing

Depending on where you live, you may be able to have records of your arrests, charges, and convictions removed or hidden from your record. In the United States, this is known as record sealing or expungement.

The rules for these processes vary hugely between states. Some only allow expungement or record sealing if someone was not ultimately convicted, was the victim of someone stealing their identity, or if the activities they were convicted of are no longer crimes. Certain other states have more options based on a range of conditions being met, which often includes a certain period of time passing since completing a sentence.

Each state refers to these processes by different names. Still, the main difference between expunging a record and sealing it is that in most states, expungement (or ‘expunction’) almost totally clears an arrest, charge, or conviction from your criminal record.

In contrast, sealing a record usually means it is only hidden from public view, and will still be accessible to a wide range of domestic and international government agencies.

How to Avoid Criminal Inadmissibility Due to a Criminal Record

Temporary Residence Permits (TRPs)

A Canadian Temporary Residence Permit (TRP) can serve as a viable option for individuals deemed inadmissible to Canada due to a criminal record. A TRP is a document that grants permission for a person to enter and stay in Canada for a specific duration determined by the government.

Criminal Rehabilitation

In certain situations, you may be eligible to apply for Criminal Rehabilitation even if you have a DUI or other conviction on your criminal record. To qualify for Criminal Rehabilitation in Canada, a minimum of five years must have passed since the completion of your imposed sentence, and no new offenses can have been committed during that time.

Additionally, you must provide validated legal documentation confirming your sentence has been fully served, demonstrating your rehabilitation. All documentation must be issued and validated by the relevant authorities in your home country to ensure its legitimacy. It’s important to be open and honest throughout the entire process, as Canadian border authorities will thoroughly examine and verify all submitted documents.

How Dogen Law Can Help

At Dogen Law, we have years of experience guiding clients through the complexities of entering and remaining in Canada. Whether you need help with the necessary documents for a Temporary Residence Permit or advice on the best immigration program for your needs, our skilled professionals are here to assist you.

If you’ve faced a negative decision in your immigration application, we can also help you appeal the decision before the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) or the Federal Court, enhancing your chances of a positive result.

If you are ready to visit or immigrate to Canada but require assistance to streamline your application process due to a past criminal conviction, please contact us for advice.