Expunging or Sealing Adult Criminal Records in Georgia

Georgia refers to expungement as record restriction. Record restriction can offer those who qualify an opportunity to remove criminal record barriers to employment, licensing, housing, and other opportunities.

In Georgia, a criminal record can be restricted—in other terms, sealed or expunged—under the circumstances described below. After a record is restricted, only criminal justice officials can access it for law enforcement, employment, or criminal investigation purposes. This restricted access means certain criminal records won't show up in record checks done in connection with other public or private employment, housing, and loan applications.

Record Restriction for Non-Convicted Defendants

Cases that end without a conviction are typically eligible for restriction. Restricted criminal records will include any arrest and booking records, charging documents, and fingerprints or photos taken. Defendants may be able to get their criminal records restricted if, for instance, the charges were dropped or dismissed, or a jury found them not guilty. This rule does not apply if:

  • the conduct that resulted in the arrest was part of a pattern of criminal activity that another state or country prosecuted
  • the case went to trial but the defendant was not acquitted on all charges
  • the defendant plead guilty to another charge in the case, or
  • the defendant entered into a plea agreement that caused the prosecutor to drop or dismiss the charges against them.

A few other exceptions exist as well. Consult a criminal defense attorney to learn more.

Record Restriction for Convicted Defendants

Georgia law allows record restrictions for criminal convictions in limited circumstances. In addition to the records listed above, this provision restricts general access to conviction, sentencing, and related records.

Misdemeanor Convictions

Defendants convicted of certain misdemeanor offenses have the option to request record restriction four years after completing their sentence, as long as they receive no additional convictions for new offenses during that time period and have no pending criminal charges. Various misdemeanors, such as sex crimes, are excluded. Others, like family violence battery, contain certain conditions for record restriction eligibility. The law only allows the court to restrict and seal up to two misdemeanor convictions.

Felony Convictions

For felony convictions, the State Board of Pardons & Paroles must first grant a pardon before an offender can apply to get their records restricted and sealed. Defendants can apply for a pardon five years after completion of their sentence, as long as they remained law-abiding during that time period. Serious violent felonies and sexual offenses do not qualify for restriction and sealing.

First-Time Drug Possession

Defendants who plead guilty to or are convicted of drug possession may be able to have their criminal record restricted if they have no previous drug offense convictions and successfully completed all terms of probation.

Other First-Time Offenses

Georgia's First Offender Act permits some first-time offenders to avoid a conviction on their records by completing certain requirements, one of which oftentimes is probation. If an offender successfully completes probation and is not arrested and convicted of another offense, their record can be restricted.

(Ga. Code §§ 16-13-2, 35-3-37, 42-8-60 (2021).)

Process to Apply for Restriction of Criminal Records

The record restriction process depends on several factors, including the date and type of criminal offense and the ultimate resolution in the case.

Some restrictions will be automatic after a certain time period if the arresting agency has not referred the case for prosecution or if the arrest occurred after July 1, 2013 and the case was disposed of in a particular manner (such as a jury acquittal). Others will require an application.

For misdemeanors convictions, defendants will file a petition in the court that originally handled the case. However, the process for felonies has an additional step. Before filing a petition in the original court, offenders must obtain a pardon first.

Correcting an Inaccurate Criminal Record

Defendants who believe their criminal records contain mistakes or are incomplete can petition to have the errors corrected. For information and instructions on correcting a record, see the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's Criminal Record FAQ.

(Ga. Code § 35-3-37 (2021).)

For More Information

Cleaning up your criminal record can be complicated. To learn more about restricting criminal records in Georgia—and to discuss your personal circumstances—you might want to contact a qualified criminal law attorney. An experienced lawyer can guide you each step of the way. You can also find helpful information, including forms to file for record restriction, by visiting the Georgia Justice Project website.

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