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If charges are dropped, does it stay on record?

if charges are dropped, does it stay on record?

The quick answer to this question is yes, they often stay on record. In most countries, dropped charges appear in background checks unless they are expunged or sealed. However, different legislations have certain criteria, processes, and eligibility requirements to follow.

In this article, we’re taking a look into how the US and Canadian laws treat dropped charges and how they define parameters for such cases. Read on!

US Laws

In the US, dropped and dismissed charges stay on your record unless you request to expunge or seal them.

They are public records, meaning they will appear whenever an employer or another entity conducts a background check on you.

The good news is that most employment background checks only search for convictions. In several states, it’s illegal for companies to consider arrests without convictions or dropped charges when looking into your application.

Dismissed vs. Dropped Charges

In the US, your non-conviction charge can either be dismissed or dropped.

When the prosecution team decides that there isn’t enough evidence to take the case to the court, they may withdraw it. In that case, the charges are dropped.

Meanwhile, if the prosecution takes the case to the court, and your defense successfully proves that evidence is lacking, then the case is dismissed.

Either way, these will stay on your record.

Expunged and Sealed Records

When charges are dismissed or dropped, you can have the records expunged or sealed.

Expungement means the destruction of all information in the charge. These include any fingerprints, photos, or other information related to the case.

Meanwhile, sealing your records means the records become inaccessible to the public eye, although they are not erased. Sometimes, even law enforcement authorities are not allowed to view sealed records.

Either way, record expungement or sealing does not happen automatically. It’s your duty to file a request for expungement or sealing.

In some states, you can only have one expunged record in your entire lifetime. It’s best to use it wisely.

Criteria for Expungement

State laws vary widely when it comes to expungement eligibility. Some of them allow it only for dropped or dismissed charges. Some of them allow expungement even after a conviction but only for certain offenses such as minor infractions and misdemeanors.

The following are common criteria to be eligible for expungement:

  • Enough time has passed since the indictment or conclusion of the case.
  • No additional criminal cases have been filed after the initial case.
  • No convictions for disqualifying cases, such as serious felonies, occurred.
  • You have little to no prior criminal history.
  • You have completed all terms of deferred disposition, parole, probation, or sentence.

If the court grants the request, you need to provide copies of the expungement order to all law enforcement agencies carrying records of the case.

Canadian Laws

Similarly, dropped or dismissed records stay on your record. Expect to find them on any background checks relating to you unless you request a so-called File Destruction.

What is a “Dropped” Charge?

If a charge is dropped, this means the court’s decision has been anything other than guilty. These decisions may be:

  • Acquittal – a decision is made that you’re not guilty of the charge. However, this doesn’t mean you’re innocent. The defendant may have simply failed to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
  • Dismissal – you are not guilty and the case is concluded.
  • Stay of Proceedings – a decision to halt the trial or any other legal proceedings related to your case. This is very rare and can be eventually lifted.

Record Suspensions (Pardons)

Record Suspensions, or Pardons, remove your case from public records. The case won’t show up when you apply for a job, travel, or do volunteer work. You need to apply for it, however.

Record Suspensions, however, are only possible when you’re convicted. As a result, dropped charges may still appear in background checks, along with any picture and fingerprints that were taken from you.

File Destruction

To erase dropped charges, you need to request File Destruction. This removes your fingerprints, photos, and any other information regarding your arrests.

Contact your police service and request to erase those files. If the request is approved, the police will contact the Canadian Criminal Real Time Identification Services (CCRTIS) to request the destruction of the charge.

Remember that the service may still deny your request for the following reasons:

  • You’re not of legal age relative to the charge as explained under the Youth Criminal Justice Act
  • You have a criminal conviction on file in the National Repository
  • You have an outstanding criminal charge
  • The appeal period has not expired (for acquitted or dismissed cases)
  • One year has not elapsed since the dropped charges (for Peace Bond and Stay of Proceedings decisions)

Your dropped charges may also be retained on record for at least five years from the court decision if the case is related:

  • Treason or high treason
  • Potential terrorist activity
  • First- and second-degree murder
  • Manslaughter
  • Aggravated assault
  • Sexually-based offenses

In cases where the person is considered not criminally responsible due to a mental disorder, the non-conviction charge will also be retained for at least five years.

Dropped Charges On Record: Why You Should Care

Regardless of where you are, your criminal records can affect you in different ways. Dropped charges may not be as serious as convictions, but that doesn’t make them any less impactful in your life.

Finding employment may be difficult, for instance. Convicted or not, criminal charges on your record may make employers doubt your trustworthiness for a job. As business people, they want to maintain a safe work environment.

It may also be difficult to find decent housing. Landlords and real estate people tend to favor tenants with clean slates. Some charges may also get you banned from subsidized housing. Careers in the medical, legal, and financial fields require a professional license. If you’re trying to get licenses in these areas, a conviction or dropped charges can also be a problem.

Overall, you should know how to deal with these charges and how you can maintain as clean a record as possible. Know your rights, and know the processes — and stay out of trouble.


Thanks for reading. Make sure to check out more of our articles about criminal law!

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