Can a Criminal Defense Lawyer Remove Crimes From a Certificate of Disposition?

Can a Criminal Defense Lawyer Remove Crimes From a Certificate of Disposition?

A certificate of disposition is a court document that outlines the final outcome of a criminal case. It includes details like the charges filed, plea entered, verdict reached, and sentence imposed. Many people mistakenly believe that once their criminal case ends, their record will be wiped clean. But even dismissed cases and not guilty verdicts can leave a permanent mark.
So can a criminal defense lawyer help remove crimes from your disposition certificate after the fact? The short answer is sometimes, but not always. Here’s a deeper look at how disposition certificates work, what they show, and options for cleaning up your criminal record.

What Exactly is a Certificate of Disposition?

A certificate of disposition, also called a certificate of conviction in some states, is an official court document that outlines the outcome of your criminal case. It is generated by the court clerk’s office and contains details like:
The original charges filed against you
Any amended or lesser charges added
What plea you entered (guilty, no contest, not guilty)
Verdict reached (guilty or not guilty)
Your sentence if convicted
Status of the case (closed, dismissed, pending appeal, etc.)
Court clerks can produce disposition certificates for any case in that jurisdiction, whether it resulted in a conviction or dismissal. These certificates are often required when applying for jobs, housing, licenses, loans, and other purposes. The reason is that they provide definitive proof of how your case was resolved.
Employers, landlords, and others can’t just take your word that your case was dismissed or that you were found not guilty. The disposition certificate offers official documentation straight from the court.

Why Do Dismissed Cases Remain on Your Record?

Many people mistakenly believe that if their criminal case gets dismissed, their record will be wiped clean. But while a dismissal means the charges won’t move forward, it doesn’t erase the arrest or original charges filed.
Here’s why:
Police reports and booking records are generated when you’re arrested. These contain your personal information, fingerprints, mug shots, etc.
When formal charges are filed, this information gets forwarded to the court and added to their records.
If the case gets dismissed later on, the court simply enters that disposition into the record. But the original arrest/charges remain.
These records are kept by the police department, court system, and other agencies like the state repository. A dismissal doesn’t expunge the records.
So even though you weren’t convicted, a background check will still reveal the initial arrest and charges. And the disposition certificate will show the case was ultimately dismissed.

Why Do Not Guilty Verdicts Remain on Your Record?

Similar to dismissals, a not guilty verdict or acquittal doesn’t automatically remove the arrest/charges from your criminal record. Here’s why:
The arrest and booking process still generates a record with your fingerprints, mugshot, etc.
The prosecution’s case going to trial generates court records and documents.
If found not guilty, the court enters that verdict into the record. But the initial records remain intact.
Not guilty verdicts and acquittals don’t trigger any kind of expungement process.
So again, a background check would reveal information about the original arrest and charges filed. The disposition certificate would show you were ultimately acquitted or found not guilty. But those initial records remain on file.

How Long Do Criminal Records Last?

There is no time limit on how long arrests, charges, and dispositions remain on your criminal record. They become a permanent part of your history unless purged through an expungement or similar legal process.
Here are some examples:
Arrest records have no expiration. An arrest from 20 years ago will still show up unless expunged.
Dismissed charges remain on your record forever unless expunged.
Not guilty verdicts and acquittals remain unless expunged.
Misdemeanor convictions typically must be reported for 7 years.
Felony convictions typically must be reported for 10 years or longer.
Again, these remain on your record indefinitely unless removed through expungement or a similar legal remedy.

How Do Expungements Work?

Expungement is the process of having certain criminal arrests, charges, and dispositions removed from your record:
An expungement petition is filed in court requesting records be purged.
If approved, the records are destroyed or sealed from public view.
Future background checks will not reveal expunged cases.
Each state has different laws on what types of records can be expunged. Common examples include:
Arrests that did not lead to formal charges.
Charges that were later dismissed.
Cases resulting in a not guilty verdict.
Low-level misdemeanor convictions after a period of time.
Non-violent felony convictions in limited circumstances.
If eligible under your state laws, an attorney can petition the court to expunge eligible cases from your criminal record. This prevents them from appearing on background checks, disposition certificates, etc.

When Are Expungements Not An Option?

While expungement provides the cleanest slate, not all cases qualify under most state laws.
Examples where expungement may not be an option include:
Violent felony convictions.
Sex crime convictions.
Cases involving serious bodily harm.
Convictions that carry lengthy reporting periods.
Defendants with long rap sheets.
Charges dismissed due to plea bargains in other cases.
If your case doesn’t qualify for expungement, your attorney may suggest other options like filing for a Certificate of Rehabilitation or pursuing a pardon. But these are much harder to obtain.

Using Certificates of Rehabilitation

A Certificate of Rehabilitation is an order from a judge recognizing your rehabilitation since a conviction. While not an expungement, it can help demonstrate you’ve turned your life around.
Certificates of Rehabilitation can improve employment chances and may allow certain licensing boards to overlook your conviction. Your attorney can advise if one may help in your situation.

Pursuing a Governor’s Pardon

In rare cases, your attorney may suggest pursuing a governor’s pardon, especially for serious convictions not eligible for expungement. This involves petitioning the governor to forgive your conviction.
If granted, the pardon doesn’t erase your conviction. But it helps demonstrate you’ve been formally forgiven and your rights restored. Pardons are very difficult to obtain and only granted in a small fraction of cases.

Non-Disclosure and Non-Conviction Orders

Some states allow non-disclosure or non-conviction orders in limited circumstances:
Non-disclosure orders allow certain minor convictions to be hidden from public background checks after a period of time. Law enforcement can still view them.
Non-conviction orders allow certain charges that resulted in probation or other alternatives to avoid a formal conviction on your record.
These are not as comprehensive as expungement but may help in certain scenarios. Your lawyer can advise if they are options in your state.

What About Juvenile Records?

Most states have additional protections for sealing or expunging juvenile records:
Juvenile records may be automatically sealed when you turn 18.
Juvenile expungements are often subject to shorter waiting periods than adult expungements.
Many juvenile offenses qualify for expungement that may not for adults.
So generally it is easier to remove eligible juvenile arrests, charges, and dispositions from your record. An attorney can walk you through this process.

When Should You Start the Expungement Process?

Timing is important when it comes to expungements. Many states impose waiting periods, meaning you cannot immediately apply to expunge a case after dismissal or acquittal.
Common waiting periods include:
1 year for misdemeanor dismissals/acquittals.
3-5 years for felony dismissals/acquittals.
5 years for misdemeanor convictions.
10 years for felony convictions.
Your lawyer will advise you on timing requirements in your state and when you become eligible to seek expungement. The goal is submitting your petition as soon as you are eligible.

Finding an Attorney to Assist You

Navigating the expungement process and cleansing your criminal record is complex. Having an experienced criminal defense lawyer assist you is highly recommended.
When researching attorneys, be sure to choose someone who regularly handles expungement petitions in your area. Also verify they have a strong record of getting favorable results for their clients.
Retaining counsel early in your case, or as soon as you are eligible for expungement, gives you the best chance of success. An attorney may also be able to get records sealed or apply other remedies if expungement is not an option.

The Bottom Line

While dismissals and not guilty verdicts sound like they should erase a case from your record, that is often not the reality. The original arrest and charges filed still remain unless purged through expungement or a similar legal process.
Consult with a criminal defense lawyer to discuss your options. In many cases, they can petition the courts to remove eligible cases from your record. This allows you to truthfully claim they never occurred down the road.
But if expungement is not possible, skilled counsel may suggest alternative remedies to help demonstrate you’ve moved past your criminal issues. Don’t assume the end of your case means the end of your record. Take proactive steps to clear your name.