How will my criminal record affect a prosecutor's charging decision?

A criminal record -- in some cases, even a sealed, dismissed, or expunged record -- will always be considered by a prosecutor when deciding whether to file charges, and which charges to file.

Question

How will my criminal record affect a prosecutor’s charging decision? What if my past record has been expunged or sealed?

Answer

Even when intake  prosecutors conduct no other investigation, they almost always check to see whether an accused has a criminal record (called a rap sheet, or "priors"). A past criminal record, even for a different crime, makes it more likely that charges will be filed, and may affect the severity of those charges.

For example, a shoplifting charge against a defendant with a prior shoplifting conviction may be filed as a felony instead of a misdemeanor petty theft  (where the laws support that type of escalation, that's called "petty with a prior"). Similarly, a charge of drunk driving with a prior always carries a more severe penalty than a first charge of drunk driving.

Defendants who have sealed, expunged, or dismissed a prior conviction cannot count on the fact of the conviction not coming to light when a prosecutor  looks for evidence of past criminal convictions. Sealing a record is most effective in the civil sphere, where you will usually  be entitled to say, "No" when asked by an employer about whether you have a criminal record.

by:

Talk to a Lawyer

Start here to find criminal defense lawyers near you.

How it Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you
FEATURED LISTINGS FROM NOLO
Swipe to view more
DEFEND YOUR RIGHTS

Talk to a Defense attorney

We've helped 95 clients find attorneys today.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you