A rap sheet is a list of a person’s arrests and convictions. The sheet is commonly referred to as a person’s criminal history record or a record of arrests and prosecutions. A rap sheet lists both misdemeanors and felonies from throughout the United States.
You can request a copy of your rap sheet. It is a good idea so that the person can check it for accuracy. Record check requests are made to the FBI and DOJ.
Otherwise, a rap sheet is confidential and can only be viewed by a limited group of people. Some of these include:
- police officers, judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys (for purposes of criminal cases),
- law enforcement agencies / criminal justice agencies (for job applications), and
- state and county governments (for job applications).
There are ways that a party can try to clear up his or her own rap sheet. A few examples are to:
Our California criminal defense attorneys will explain the following in this article:
- 1. What is a rap sheet?
- 2. How can a person get a copy of his or her rap sheet?
- 3. Who can see or access a person’s rap sheet?
- 4. Is it possible to get criminal records deleted in California?
- 5. Is a rap sheet the same thing as a criminal record?
1. What is a rap sheet?
A “rap sheet” is a list of all of a person’s arrests and convictions. The sheet is also referred to as:
- a person’s “criminal record,” or
- a “Record of Arrests and Prosecutions.”
A rap sheet lists both misdemeanor convictions and felony convictions as well as arrests and pending charges on court records. They are confidential documents and can only be accessed by a limited group of people.1
Official rap sheets are compiled and maintained by:
- the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and
- the Department of Justice (DOJ)
- the CLETS system operated by California law enforcement agencies.
Note that, in addition to these agencies, private record search companies:
- compile publicly available criminal court information, and
- organize it into “criminal records.”
These companies then provide the information (for a fee) to entities that request it. These “entities” are private employers who run criminal background checks on potential employees.
2. How can a person get a copy of his or her own rap sheet?
A person can request a copy of his or her own rap sheet. It is a good idea so that the person can check it for accuracy. Requests are made to the FBI and DOJ.
For an FBI rap sheet, a party has to submit a written request to the agency’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division. This request must include:
- proof of identity (which means a copy of the party’s fingerprints), and
- payment of an $18 processing fee.
There are many fingerprinting services throughout most cities that charge a small fee.
The FBI does not provide copies of arrest records to individuals other than the subject of the record. The Identification Record webpage contains further information and forms.
With respect to the DOJ, a person has to request the rap sheet from the state DOJ for which he/she resides in. This request must include:
- a completed application (including name, date of birth, etc.),
- proof of identity (which means a copy of a party’s fingerprints), and
- payment of a processing fee.
Like with the FBI, the DOJ will only provide a rap sheet to the person that is subject to it.
3. Who can see or access a person’s rap sheet?
An Official government rap sheet is confidential, and it is only available to certain people/entities.2
Depending on the circumstances, these people and entities can include:
- police, judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys (for purposes of criminal cases),
- peace officer agencies (for job applications),
- state and county governments (for job applications),
- state licensing agencies (for granting state licenses), and
- the person named on the rap sheet (to review for accuracy).
Note that private employers can run background checks on candidates for employment. They can do this by reviewing any publicly available criminal information on the candidate.
As to criminal history, though, it is unlawful for an employer to gain access to information on:
- an arrest that did not lead to conviction (unless the arrest is pending),
- a conviction dated more than seven years from the date of the check,3
- a conviction for which the person checked received a pardon,4
- an arrest leading to the completion of a successful diversion program,5
- expunged and sealed convictions,6 and
- certain marijuana offenses.
4. Is it possible to get criminal records deleted in California?
There are several ways a person can try to “clear up” negative information on his/her California rap sheet. These include:
- Certificates of Rehabilitation,
- governor’s pardons,
- sealing of juvenile records, and
An expungement erases a conviction from a rap sheet.
A person convicted of a crime is entitled to an expungement if he:
- successfully completes probation, or
- completes a jail term (whichever is relevant).
If a conviction is expunged, then it does not need to be disclosed to potential employers. This holds true even if a conditional offer of employment is made.
4.2. Certificates of Rehabilitation
A Certificate of Rehabilitation (“COR”) is a:
- court order that says,
- someone has been rehabilitated following a criminal conviction.
In general, a certificate is available to people who were convicted of:
- a felony and were sentenced to a California state penal institution or agency, or
- a felony and were sentenced to probation and the conviction has been expunged, or
- certain misdemeanor sex offenses and the conviction has been expunged.
A Certificate of Rehabilitation does not remove a conviction. But “rehabilitation” shows that a person has remained out of trouble.
4.3. Governor’s Pardons
A governor’s pardon is an honor granted to people who have been rehabilitated of a crime.
Almost anyone convicted of a crime can seek a pardon after a satisfactory period of rehabilitation. Depending on the crime, this period can be anywhere from seven to ten years.
The exact manner to obtain a pardon will vary depending on the state in which a person resides.
Note that a pardon does not erase a conviction from a rap sheet. The crime is just “pardoned,” or set aside.
4.4. Sealing juvenile records
The “sealing” of juvenile records means that the court closes a person’s file. The documents in it then cease to exist. They are no longer public records.
Under the laws of most states, a person can try to seal his juvenile records if all of the following are true:
- he is18 or older, or five years have passed since the jurisdiction of the juvenile court ended,
- he has not been convicted of an offense involving moral turpitude as an adult, and
- he has not been convicted in juvenile court, after turning 14, of certain serious offenses (like murder, torture, or robbery).7
5. Is a rap sheet the same thing as a criminal record?
People use the terms “rap sheet” and “criminal record” interchangeably. But a rap sheet is just a type of criminal record.
Most publicly available criminal record background checks do not include rap sheets. This is because rap sheets are accessible only by the defendant, police, prosecutors, defense attorneys, government employers, and state licensing agencies. Otherwise, rap sheets are confidential.8
Therefore, the criminal record background checks that employers, lenders, and landlords use contain only publicly available information from court records. These records might not include everything from a person’s rap sheet. And private employers are blocked from even seeing convictions more than seven years old unless another law requires the employer to look back further.9
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense attorney, we invite you to contact us here at Shouse Law Group. Also, see the Division of Criminal Justice Services in California at aog.ca.gov.
- With respect to California law, please see Penal Code 11105a and b PC.
- See same.
- With respect to California law, see California Civil Code Section 1786.18.
- See same.
- With respect to California law, see California Labor Code Section 432.7.
- With respect to California law, see California Code of Regulations, Title 2, Section 7287.4.
- With respect to California law, see California Welfare and Institutions Code 781 WIC.
- See note 1.
- See note 3.