A rap sheet is an official record of your misdemeanor and felony arrests and convictions from throughout the United States. It also goes by the terms criminal history record or Record of Arrests and Prosecutions (“RAP”).
You can request a copy of your rap sheet. Otherwise, they are confidential and viewable only by a limited group of people, including:
- 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 you can try to clear up your own rap sheet. A few examples are to:
Here at Shouse Law Group, we have helped literally thousands of people get seals and expungements so their rap sheet is clear. Our California criminal defense attorneys will explain the following in this article:
- 1. What is a rap sheet?
- 2. How can I get a copy of my rap sheet?
- 3. Who else can see it?
- 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 your arrests and convictions. People also call it a “criminal record” or “Record of Arrests and Prosecutions.”
A rap sheet lists both misdemeanor convictions and felony convictions as well as
- pending criminal charges/citations on court records,
- restraining orders,
- dispositions, and
They are confidential documents and can only be accessed by a limited group of people.1
Agencies that have access
Official rap sheets are compiled and maintained by:
- the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI),
- the Department of Justice (DOJ), and
- the CLETS system operated by California law enforcement agencies.
In addition, private record search companies compile publicly available criminal court information and police records in order to organize it into “criminal records.”
These private companies then sell the information to such entities as private employers who run criminal background checks on potential employees.
2. How can I get a copy of my own rap sheet?
For an FBI rap sheet, you have 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 your fingerprints), and
- payment of an $18 processing fee.
The FBI’s Identification Record webpage contains further information and forms.
For a DOJ rap sheet, you have to request it from the state DOJ in which you reside. This request must include:
- a completed application (including name, date of birth, etc.),
- proof of identity (which means a copy of your fingerprints), and
- payment of a processing fee.
In our experience, it is a good idea to get a copy of your rap sheet so that you can check it for accuracy. There are many fingerprinting services throughout most cities that charge a small fee.
3. Who else can see it?
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 departments, judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys (for purposes of criminal cases),
- peace officer agencies (for job applications),
- state and county government employers (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 background check,3
- a conviction for which you 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 we have been able to “clear up” negative information on our clients’ California rap sheets. These include:
- Certificates of Rehabilitation,
- governor’s pardons,
- sealing of juvenile records, and
An expungement erases a conviction from a rap sheet. If you are convicted of a crime, you are entitled to an expungement if you:
- successfully complete probation, or
- complete 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 you have been rehabilitated following a criminal conviction. In general, a certificate is available if you have a conviction for either:
- 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. Though “rehabilitation” shows that you have remained out of trouble.
4.3. Governor’s Pardons
A governor’s pardon is an honor that may be granted if you have been rehabilitated for a crime. The exact manner to obtain a pardon will vary depending on the state in which you reside.
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. Your application must detail how you are fully rehabilitated.
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 your file. The documents in it then cease to exist. They are no longer public records.
Under the laws of most states, you can try to seal your juvenile records if all of the following are true:
- you are 18 or older, or five years have passed since the jurisdiction of the juvenile court ended,
- you have no convictions for an offense involving moral turpitude as an adult, and
- you have no convictions 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. Though 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 your rap sheet is accessible only by
- 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 your official governmental rap sheet.
Plus private employers cannot see convictions more than seven years old unless another law requires the employer to look back further.9
- 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.