Expungement in Colorado is the legal process of erasing juvenile records, underage drinking and driving (UDD) records, or arrest records of people apprehended because of mistaken identity. Sealing is a similar legal process that conceals all other kinds of criminal records from public view. Records that have been expunged or sealed do not show up on background checks. But people have to petition a court to get their records cleared – it is not automatic, and not everyone is eligible.
In this article, our Colorado criminal defense lawyers will address:
- 1. What is record expungement and sealing in Colorado?
- 2. What crimes cannot be expunged or sealed?
- 3. How soon can records be expunged or sealed?
- 4. How do I expunge or seal my records?
1. What is record expungement and sealing in Colorado?
The expunging process physically destroys records, so they are deemed never to have existed. Meanwhile, the sealing process hides records so that the general public may not see them. But since sealed records are merely hidden and not destroyed, authorities may still be able to access sealed records in limited circumstances.
Both expunging and sealing serve the same purpose: Keeping one’s criminal history from showing up on future background checks. And in practice, people use the words “expunging” and “sealing” interchangeably. But technically under Colorado law, the only records that can be expunged are:
- juvenile records,1 or
- UDD records,2 or
- criminal arrest records if the arrestee was the victim of mistaken identity.3
Sealing is reserved for all other types of criminal records (if the defendant is eligible for sealing.)4
2. What crimes cannot be expunged or sealed?
The following criminal conviction records may never be sealed in Colorado. These convictions remain on the defendant’s record forever:
- Class A traffic infractions
- Class B traffic infractions
- Class 1 misdemeanor traffic offenses
- Class 2 misdemeanor traffic offenses
- Domestic violence convictions (including domestic violence harassment)
- Level 1 drug felonies
- Sex crimes
- Class 1 felonies
- Class 2 felonies
- Class 3 felonies
- Crimes involving a commercial driver’s license5
And people with juvenile records may not get an expungement if either:
- They were adjudicated as a violent juvenile offender or an aggravated juvenile offender;
- They were convicted of a traffic offense or infraction;
- They were convicted of a sex felony offense; or
- They were convicted of a homicide or related offense6
Therefore, people charged with any of the above offenses should retain experienced counsel immediately to fight to get the charges reduced or dismissed. If convicted, their permanent record may cause them to be passed over for future employment, education, financial, or housing opportunities. This is especially true for crimes involving violence, theft, or controlled substances.
3. How soon can records be expunged or sealed?
The waiting period to petition the county- or district court to clear a criminal record depends on the particular case:
There is no wait to petition the court for an expungement or seal if either:
- The defendant was found not guilty of the charge at trial;
- The defendant finished a diversion program or deferred adjudication / deferred judgment;
- The defendant finished an informal adjustment (in juvenile cases);
- The prosecutors simply dropped the charge; or
- The defendant was arrested, there is no investigation, and the statute of limitations to press criminal charges has passed
However, there is a 10-year wait to seal a dismissed charge if it was dropped due to a plea agreement in another case. (And the defendant must not have picked up any new charges in those ten years.)
Finally, a dismissed charge can never be sealed if the defendant did not complete the sentencing conditions (if any). Common sentencing terms include paying fines, restitution, any late fees, and finishing any required counseling or education classes.7
3.2. Criminal convictions
|Colorado conviction||Waiting period to petition for record seal |
|Petty offenses||One (1) year after the case ends|
|Class 2 misdemeanors |
|Two (2) years after the case ends|
|Class 4 felonies||Three (3) years after the case ends|
|Underage possession/ consumption of alcohol or marijuana||If the conviction occurred before July 1, 2014, the wait is one (1) year after the date of the final disposition of all criminal proceedings against the defendant or the defendant’s release from supervision, whichever is later. |
Otherwise, the wait is one (1) year after the conviction.
|All other offenses||Five (5) years after the case ends|
|* Note that people convicted of marijuana crimes that have since been decriminalized can petition for a record seal immediately.8|
3.3. Juvenile delinquencies
Colorado juvenile offense
Waiting period to petition for a record expungement
|The defendant successfully finished probation; or |
The contact with law enforcement did not lead to a referral to another agency
|One (1) year|
|The defendant got an unconditional release from parole supervision or from a commitment to the Department of Human Services||Three (3) years|
|The person was released from his/her sentence as a repeat offender or mandatory offender.||Five (5) years9|
3.4. Underage drinking and driving
Defendants convicted of UDD can petition for a record seal immediately after turning 21 years old.10
3.5. Municipal court convictions
Defendants convicted of a criminal offense in a municipal court may petition for a record seal three (3) years after the case closes if all of the following are true:
- The defendant has not since been charged or convicted of a felony, misdemeanor, or misdemeanor traffic offense;
- The case to be sealed contains at least once charge that is not a class 1- or class 2 misdemeanor traffic offense;
- The case to be sealed contains at least one charge that is not a class A- or class B traffic infraction;
- The case does not include a deferred judgment and sentence concerning the holder of a commercial driver’s license or the operator of a commercial motor vehicle; and
- The case does unlawful sexual behavior.
For defendants who have been convicted of a crime following a municipal violation, they can petition to seal the municipal case ten (10) years after the subsequent criminal case ends if all of the following are true:
- The subsequent offense occurred within three years of the municipal violation;
- The subsequent offense was not a felony and did not involve domestic violence, child abuse, or unlawful sexual behavior;
- The municipal offense did not involve domestic violence; and
- The defendant was not convicted of a felony, misdemeanor, or misdemeanor traffic offense in the ten or more years since the subsequent criminal case ended.11
3.6. Arrests due to mistaken identity
People who were wrongly arrested and not charged can petition for a record expungement 90 days after the police investigation determines that they were the victim of mistaken identity.12
3.7. Convictions by human trafficking victims
Human trafficking victims may immediately petition to get their misdemeanor- or municipal convictions sealed. At no fault of their own, victims are commonly convicted for such crimes as:
- Prostitution (CRS 18-7-201)
- Soliciting for prostitution (CRS 18-7-202)
- Keeping a place of prostitution (CRS 18-7-204)
- Public indecency (CRS 18-7-301)
Note that any conviction listed under CRS 24-4.1-302(1) is unsealable.13
3.8. DNA samples
People can apply to have their DNA samples expunged if either:
- The case they provided the sample for ended in a dismissal, and acquittal, or a non-felony conviction; or
- They provided the sample for a case that resulted in no charges being filed or in no felony charges being filed within 90 days of the arrest
Note that anyone arrested for a felony in Colorado must submit a DNA sample.14
4. How do I expunge or seal my criminal records?
People can follow the instructions and forms provided by the Colorado Judicial Branch here. The forms include information on required court costs and filing fees.
To expunge DNA samples, follow the instructions at the Colorado Bureau of Investigation here.
It is advised that people retain an attorney to handle all of the paperwork and mailings required to expunge or seal arrest- or conviction records. Expunging or sealing criminal records is a confusing, time-intensive process. And may require communications with law enforcement agencies and the prosecuting attorneys at the District Attorney’s Office before the judge will issue the court order granting the record seal or expungement.
If you have a criminal conviction on your record, you may be able to have your Colorado criminal record sealed. Our law firm creates attorney-client relationships throughout the state, including Denver, Colorado Springs, Boulder, and more. Contact our defense attorneys for free legal advice on how to seal records.
- CRS 19-1-306. See also C.B. v. People, (Colo. App. 2005) 122 P.3d 1065.
- CRS 42-4-1715; CRS 42-2-121.
- CRS 24-72-702.
- CRS 24-72-706; CRS 24-72-703.
- CRS 24-72-706.
- CRS 19-1-306.
- CRS 24-72-703; CRS 19-1-306; CRS 24-72-704; See also People v. Wright, (1979) 43 Colo. App. 30, 598 P.2d 157.
- CRS 24-72-706.
- CRS 19-1-306.
- CRS 42-4-1715; CRS 42-2-121.
- CRS 24-72-708.
- CRS 24-72-702.
- CRS 24-72-707.
- CRS 16-23-105.