Colorado offers a few methods for expunging or sealing criminal records, including a simplified process, petition process, and automatic sealing. Each process comes with different eligibility requirements. While not all criminal records can be sealed in Colorado, state lawmakers have greatly expanded eligibility in recent years.
This article will provide a brief overview of Colorado's expungement (sealing) laws for adult criminal convictions. (A different procedure applies for juvenile delinquency records. Learn more here.)
Every state defines expungement and sealing differently. In Colorado, the term "expungement" refers primarily to the court process and order that hides qualifying juvenile delinquency records from public view. "Sealing," on the other hand, pertains to a similar process and order for eligible adult criminal records.
While sealing or expunging a criminal record doesn't completely get rid of it, it does prevent public access to that record. For instance, when filling out a housing, job, or loan application that asks if the person has a criminal record, the person can legally answer "no" to that question regarding their expunged or sealed records. If a business or individual requests a background check from a government agency, the agency must state that no public record exists.
Courts and agencies don't destroy sealed adult or expunged juvenile records because they may be accessed at a later time—but only under certain circumstances. The law allows their use in any future criminal charging and sentencing decisions. Also, certain employers and professional licensing agencies may be permitted to see sealed records in background checks. For example, someone who wants to work for law enforcement, a school, or a childcare facility would likely be subject to a full background check, as would someone applying for a license to practice law.
(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 24-72-703 (2022).)
When determining whether a criminal record qualifies for sealing, the person will need some basic information on their case, such as:
Certain wait periods might also apply. Those who don't want to go through the petition process (filing a case with the court) will generally need to wait a longer period of time for that same record to qualify for automatic sealing (which is still a pretty new process).
Below, we outline the basic eligibility requirements for sealing criminal records based on the disposition (result) of the matter:
These explanations are based on the law effective after August 10, 2022. In some instances, the pre-August 2022 law may apply to a case. It's always best to consult with a lawyer when determining sealing eligibility and procedures specific to one's case.
For persons who were arrested but never charged, records should be automatically sealed immediately upon dismissal or within a year of the arrest, as described below.
If the person enters and successfully completes a diversion program run by the district attorney's office, the district attorney must seal the record immediately upon dismissal. This process will be done without court involvement. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-1.3-101 (2022).)
In other pretrial diversion cases, the person can either petition (ask) the court to seal the record upon successful completion or wait for the record to be automatically sealed. The same process applies for non-diversion cases where there was an arrest but no charges were filed.
For offenses that happened on or after January 1, 2022, arrest records will be automatically sealed after a year has passed without charges. Timing and eligibility for automatic sealing of older arrests vary—to see the timelines, check out section 24-72-704 (2)(b) of the Colorado Revised Statutes.
If charges were filed but the case ended without a conviction (acquittal or dismissal), the person's record may be sealed under Colorado's "simplified process." The simplified sealing process allows the judge in the case to seal the record at the end of the criminal case or upon the defendant's motion. The defendant won't need to file a separate petition and case to get the records sealed (as is required for conviction records).
The court can order the record sealed immediately in many instances. However, if the offense falls under the crime victims act, the district attorney must first notify the victim and then sealing will occur. The defendant may also file a motion directly with the court if the court didn't seal the record at the time of the acquittal or dismissal.
(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 24-72-705 (2022).)
Colorado law allows many misdemeanors and low-level felony convictions to be sealed by petitioning (asking) the court. The petition process requires filing a request (the petition), documentation, and filing fees with the court asking for records to be sealed.
Automatic sealing of these records—set to begin in late 2024—won't require any action on the part of the defendant, but longer wait periods will apply than those that apply to the petition process. Also, district attorneys will be allowed to object to the automatic sealing of individual records based on public safety interests. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-3-117 (2022).)
Certain convictions are never eligible for sealing in Colorado—here are a few of them:
The complete list of ineligible offenses can be found in section 24-72-706 (2) of the Colorado Revised Statutes.
For eligible convictions (those not on the ineligible list), a person must wait a set amount of time before their record qualifies for sealing under the petition process.
For (most) eligible convictions, the following wait periods apply before a person can get a single record sealed:
If the person wants to have multiple convictions sealed, a longer wait period applies (and is based on the highest conviction level). The law also caps the number of convictions that may be sealed.
The wait period starts after final disposition of the case or the person's release from supervision, whichever is later. For multiple records, this calculation is based on the latest-in-time conviction (so, the most recent).
While having outstanding fines and fees no longer disqualifies a person from record sealing, an outstanding restitution order (victim compensation) does prevent the court from sealing the record.
Different timelines and procedures apply for petition requests brought by human trafficking victims and in cases involving underage alcohol or marijuana possession and misrepresentation of a service or assistance animal.
The automatic sealing process for convictions should start in late 2024. For eligible convictions, the court will automatically seal the record once the following wait periods have passed, as long as the person remained crime free:
(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-3-117 (2022).)
In some cases, your record will be automatically sealed by the district attorney, court, or the Colorado Bureau of Investigations. But, in other instances, you may need to file a petition with the court. The Colorado Judicial Branch has forms and information online that you can fill out by yourself. However, if you find yourself in over your head, consult an attorney who practices in the area of criminal record sealing or expungement.
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