What is a Rap Sheet/Record of Arrests and Prosecutions

Updated

A rap sheet is a list 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 misdemeanors and felonies.

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.

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 (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:

  1. obtain an expungement,
  2. file for a certificate of rehabilitation, and
  3. seek a governor's pardon.

Our California criminal defense attorneys will explain the following in this article:

criminal record
A rap sheet is also referred to as a person's 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 misdemeanors and felonies. They are confidential documents and can only be accessed by a limited group of people.1

Official rap sheets are compiled and maintained by:

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 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 the FBI, 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.

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,
  • 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.

criminal defense attorney looking at a client's rap sheet
Defense attorneys are entitled to seeing a client's rap sheet for cases.

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:

  • cops, 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 authorities (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?

There are several ways a person can try to “clear up” negative information on his/her rap sheet. These include:

  1. expungements,
  2. Certificates of Rehabilitation,
  3. governor's pardons,
  4. sealing of juvenile records, and

4.1. Expungements

An expungement erases a conviction from a rap sheet.

A person convicted of a crime is entitled to an expungement if he:

  1. successfully completes probation, or
  2. 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:

  1. a felony and were sentenced to a California state penal institution or agency, or
  2. a felony and were sentenced to probation and the conviction has been expunged, or
  3. 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:

  1. he is18 or older, or five years have passed since the jurisdiction of the juvenile court ended,
  2. he has not been convicted of an offense involving moral turpitude as an adult, and
  3. he has not been convicted in juvenile court, after turning 14, of certain serious offenses (like murder, torture, or robbery).7

For additional help...

california criminal defense attorneys
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For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense attorney, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.


Legal References:

  1. With respect to California law, please see Penal Code 11105a and b PC.

  2. See same.

  3. With respect to California law, see California Civil Code Section 1786.18.

  4. See same.

  5. With respect to California law, see California Labor Code Section 432.7.

  6. With respect to California law, see California Code of Regulations, Title 2, Section 7287.4.

  7. With respect to California law, see California Welfare and Institutions Code 781 WIC.

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