Record sealing, which is also often called record "expunging" or "expungement" in other jurisdictions, is a process whereby a person may petition the court for an order sealing all of his criminal records so that moving forward no one can obtain those records without a court order (see NRS 179.245). The term "criminal records" includes arrest records held by the police, court records related to the subsequent criminal case and any related records that are held by the prosecuting agency's office. In this article, I will explain the record sealing process by presenting and then answering common questions asked by our clients.
People petition to have their records sealed for various reasons, but the most common reason we hear from our clients is that they want to seal their record for employment purposes. Employers will use different methods of varying thoroughness when conducting background checks. Some employers only screen for felony convictions while other employers want to know about any and all arrests regardless of the outcome. Some employers will take a person at his word while others may go so far as to conduct an NCIC background check.
It is important to remember that criminal cases are matters of public record, which means that it only takes a little digging to find records of your criminal case. This is true even if the case was dismissed. For these reasons, getting your record sealed can be of great benefit to you both personally and professionally.
Nevada uses the process of record sealing instead of record expungement. Although these two processes are very similar, they are not completely identical.
When a record is ordered expunged, the record is supposed to be deleted or erased entirely. On the other hand, when a record is ordered sealed, this technically means that the record still exists, but that the record cannot be viewed by anyone without a court order.
However, for all practical purposes, the differences between record sealing and record expungement are minimal. In fact, although Nevada is a record sealing state, when we complete the process of record sealing, all of the letters that we receive from Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department indicating compliance with our court orders specifically state that the related records have been "deleted from [their] database".
How you should answer this question really depends on the exact language used and we always prefer that our clients contact us with such questions so that we can counsel them accordingly. Generally speaking though, once your record is sealed, "All proceedings recounted in the record are deemed never to have occurred" (see Clark County Courts' Frequently Asked Questions – Sealed Records). This means that once your record is sealed, you can affirmatively state that you have never been arrested for or convicted of a crime.
Whether or not a person may petition to seal his record is governed by statute and depends first on the way in which the case was disposed of (i.e. dismissal or acquittal as versus conviction). A case that resulted in a dismissal or an acquittal can often be sealed immediately with a few exceptions. However, if the case resulted in a conviction, then you will need to know exactly what charge or charges you were convicted of as well as how much time has passed since the case was completely closed. If you were granted probation or parole, then your case would not be considered closed until you were discharged from probation or parole.
It is common for people to have difficulty recalling exactly what charges they were previously been convicted of or when their case was closed, so don't worry if you can't figure out all of this information on your own. We are always more than happy to find this information out for you and we usually only need a little basic information from you in order to get it.
Sealing a Record that Resulted in a Dismissal, Denial or Acquittal
Generally, when a case is dismissed pursuant to statute or when the prosecution declines to file formal charges and the case is denied, that person can then petition to seal those records immediately. For more information about what "dismissed pursuant to statute" means, please see our page "Domestic Violence Dismissed by Prosecutor Per Statute?"
However, the prosecuting agency always has discretion when deciding whether or not to sign off on these petitions so long as the statute of limitations hasn't yet run. That being said, we have not yet had a single instance where the prosecution refused to sign a petition of ours that involved charges that were either dismissed or denied.
When a person is acquitted of a crime, meaning that a judge or a jury determined that he was not guilty of the charge for which he was accused, then that person can petition to seal his record immediately. There is no statutory waiting period.
Sealing a Felony Conviction
In order to determine how long you must wait before petitioning to seal a felony conviction, you will need to determine the category of felony for which you were convicted.
Sealing a Gross Misdemeanor Conviction
Convictions for any gross misdemeanor can be sealed once 5 years has passed from the date the case was closed (see NRS 179.245.1(d)).
Sealing a Misdemeanor Conviction
Most misdemeanor convictions can be sealed once 2 years has passed since the date the case was closed (see NRS 179.245(f)). However, there are two exceptions to this rule. Misdemeanor convictions for Driving Under the Influence or for Battery Domestic Violence cannot be sealed for 7 years from the date that the case was closed (see NRS 179.245(e)).
The reason for this is simple: Both of these offenses are what is called "enhanceable", which means that you could face harsher punishments if you sustain additional convictions of the same nature within the statutory 7-year period. Please see our pages "Driving Under the Influence" and "Battery Domestic Violence" for more information on these offenses.
Convictions for Sexual Offenses
According to NRS 179.245.5, a person is not allowed at any point to seal records relating to a conviction for a sexual offense. NRS 179.245.7(b)(1)-(15) provide specifics as to what is considered a "sexual offense" for purposes of this statute.
Convictions for Crimes Against a Child
According to NRS 179.245.5, a person is not allowed at any point to seal records relating to a conviction of a crime against a child. NRS 179.0357 provides specifics regarding what is considered to be a "crime against a child" for purposes of NRS 179.245.5.
In Nevada, a person must initiate a new civil case in order to seal his criminal record, which seems confusing and counterintuitive. Although the case you are seeking to seal was criminal in nature, the process whereby you would seal that criminal record is actually civil in nature.
The process itself requires a good amount of paperwork and patience, but can be done with relative ease and speed by a person who regularly handles record sealing. There are sample forms available online for those who elect not to hire an attorney to help with their record sealing, but the entire process can be very overwhelming and time-consuming for those who don't deal regularly with it, which is why hiring an attorney is always recommended.
The exact documents needed for record sealing depend somewhat on which court the record sealing case is being handled through. For example, Las Vegas Municipal Court has somewhat different requirements than Las Vegas Justice Court, so it is important to know which court you are dealing with before you begin the process.
Generally, it makes the most sense to seal your record through the same court that handled the original criminal case you are seeking to seal. However, there are certain circumstances where a person would seek to seal his records through District Court instead of one of the lower courts.
The most common reason for going through District Court instead of a lower court would involve a situation where a person had multiple cases in different courts. For example, say a person had a trespass case in Mesquite Municipal Court as well as a petit larceny case that was in Las Vegas Justice Court.
The person could initiate two different record sealing cases – one through Laughlin Municipal Court and one through Las Vegas Justice Court – but then that person would have to pay two separate filing fees and would have to keep track of the two separate record sealing cases. The other option in such a situation would be to create and file one petition that includes both cases and file that petition with District Court instead.
A less common reason for choosing to go through District Court instead of a lower court would be to avoid having to travel to the lower court for any future court dates related to the petition. Most courts do not set hearings for record sealing petitions so long as the petition is signed by the prosecuting agency. However, some courts require these hearings regardless of whether or not the petition was signed by the prosecuting agency, and making that trip can be incredibly inconvenient if you no longer happen to live in that area.
To make a long story short, before getting started on all of your documents, you should first determine which court you will be petitioning to seal your record. An attorney can always help you to make that determination as well if you have any questions about which court to go through.
That being said, the record sealing process is very similar from one jurisdiction to another. The first step of the process will always be to obtain a copy of your criminal history records. This is needed in order to generate your Petition, which we will discuss in more detail here shortly.
In order to prepare your Petition, you will need to obtain a copy of your arrest record. In Nevada, this is commonly referred to as "getting a copy of your SCOPE". Where you will need to go in order to obtain a copy of your arrest record depends on the law enforcement agency that was involved in your arrest.
Furthermore, depending on the prosecuting agency that was involved in your case, you may also need to obtain a copy of your Criminal History Report from the Nevada Department of Public Safety. Both of these reports are discussed in greater detail below.
SCOPE, which stands for Shared Computer Operations for Protection and Enforcement, is a system that is used by various law enforcement agencies throughout Nevada. It allows for different law enforcement agencies to work off of one universal online system.
A SCOPE Report is a print out of all of the entries within the SCOPE system that are related to a particular person. SCOPE entries obviously include a person's prior arrests, but can also include entries such as a liquor license or an entry where the person was the victim of a crime.
SCOPE Reports use abbreviations that can often be rather confusing, so it is important to consult with someone who is familiar with these abbreviations before using that information to prepare your Petition. If the information you put on the Petition is incorrect in any way, your Petition will be rejected and you will need to resubmit everything, which can greatly delay the overall process.
You will need to get a copy of your SCOPE from the police department that was involved in your arrest. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) handles this for much of Clark County with two very notable exceptions. If your arrest occurred in either North Las Vegas or Henderson, you will need to go to those police departments specifically in order to obtain your SCOPE Report.
For LVMPD, you can request a copy of your SCOPE Report either in person or via mail. The main benefit to requesting your SCOPE in person instead of by mail is that you will have the document the same day, which speeds up the overall sealing process.
If you wish to request a copy of your SCOPE in person, you will need to go to LVMPD's Records Department, which is located at 400 S. Martin Luther King Boulevard – Building C in Las Vegas, Nevada. Make sure you bring valid, government-issued photo identification with you as well as $9.00 in cash, money order or cashier's check.
LVMPD also allows a person to authorize another person, for example an attorney, to obtain a copy of your SCOPE on your behalf, which is a service we provide regularly for our clients. Many of our clients live outside of Nevada or are too busy with work or other obligations, so it only makes sense that we would offer this service to them.
It is also important to note that LVMPD will arrest anyone with outstanding warrants of any type, which is yet another reason why we prefer to pick up our clients' SCOPE Reports on their behalf. Furthermore, as attorneys we go through a separate entrance and go to a different window than people who are requesting their own SCOPE records, so we are able to complete in minutes a transaction that could otherwise take our client an hour or more to get through.
Another option is to request a copy of your SCOPE via mail using a form entitled Request for Report/Background Check Via Mail. You will also need to send a copy of your valid government-issued photo identification along with an original notarized authorization and a money order or cashier's check for $9.00.
For the North Las Vegas Police Department (NLVPD), you must request a copy of your SCOPE Report in person. If you wish to do this in person by yourself, you will need to go to NLVMPD's Records Division, which is located at 1301 East Lake Mead Boulevard in North Las Vegas, Nevada.
The office is open Monday through Thursday from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. and they take an hour lunch break at noon. They are not open on Fridays. Make sure you bring valid, government-issued photo identification with you as well as $10.00 in cash, money order or cashier's check.
Similar to LVMPD, NLVMPD also allows you to authorize another person to obtain a copy of your SCOPE for you. For the reasons already stated above, we would always recommend this approach for any of our clients.
For the Henderson Police Department (HPD), you must request a copy of your SCOPE Report in person. If you wish to do this in person by yourself, you will need to go to Henderson's Records Division, which is located at 223 Lead Street in Henderson, Nevada.
The office is open Monday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. They are not open on Fridays. Be sure that you bring valid, government-issued photo identification with you.
Similar to LVMPD and NLVMPD, HPD also allows you to authorize another person to obtain a copy of your SCOPE for you. For the reasons already stated above, we would always recommend this approach for any of our clients.
You may also need to obtain a copy of your Criminal History Report (CHR) from the Nevada Department of Public Safety. The CHR is a printout of the information that is housed on the Nevada Criminal History Repository, which is an online system that stores the entries of any and all arrests that occurred within Nevada regardless of the arresting agency.
In order to get a copy of your CHR, you have to fill out a DPS-006 Form and send that along with a fingerprint card and a money order or certified check for $23.50 that is made out to the Department of Public Safety. This is a more involved and lengthy process than obtaining your SCOPE Report. At present, the Nevada Department of Public Safety estimates that the processing time for these requests will take up to 45 days.
However, that has not been our experience thus far and we have been able to get these requests processed in less time for most of our clients. When people elect to use our services for their record sealing needs, we handle as much of this portion of the process for them as we possibly can. The one task we cannot do on our clients' behalf is getting fingerprinted, but we handle everything else for them so that they have as little headache as possible.
The exact format of the Petition will vary somewhat based on the court that you are petitioning, but every Petition will include the same essential information such as your name, SCOPE identification number and the details of the records that you are seeking to seal.
As previously stated, the details included in the Petition must be identical to those listed in your SCOPE Report and your CHR if applicable. Any error on the Petition will result in a rejection of your entire record sealing packet, which will then be sent back to you for correction.
You will also need to attach an Affidavit (also referred to as a Declaration and Verification in certain courts) to the Petition that states that the information contained in the Petition is true to the best of your belief and have that notarized by a Notary Public. Notary Publics can be easily located with a simple internet search, and we also offer that service to any of our clients they live here locally.
All that being said, it is only important to know these procedural details if you plan on trying to seal your records on your own. If you are using an attorney, that attorney should be preparing everything for you and should only ask for your signature on the completed paperwork.
The Order will look much the same as the Petition with the exception that the Order will have language that orders any and all related agencies to seal the records detailed in the document and will also have a place for the judge to sign. The signed Order is the document you will need to show to any involved law enforcement agencies or prosecuting agencies so that your records are completely sealed. If you hire an attorney, then they should take care of this part of the process for you.
However, if you choose instead to handle the record sealing process on your own, then you will need to get certified copies of the Order from the court before your records are completely sealed so that you can then send these certified copies out to all of the involved agencies. Remember, until you take this final step, your records are not completely sealed.
While record sealing is technically something that can be done without an attorney, it can be a very difficult undertaking for people who don't deal with the process on a regular basis. Because we have handled so many of these cases, we know exactly what needs to be done and we are able to handle everything in a very efficient manner. However, this process can be incredibly frustrating and confusing to people who aren't doing as frequently as we are. One misstep or typo can result in delays that are measured in weeks or even months. For these reasons, we would always recommend that you hire an attorney to help you with your record sealing needs. Contact us today for a free consultation.
By Jenny Pandullo