Do I Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer to Get My Certificate of Disposition?


Do I Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer to Get My Certificate of Disposition?

Getting a copy of your criminal record can be tricky business. There are a lot of rules about who can access records and what kind of records you can actually get. One of the most common records people request is something called a certificate of disposition. This document summarizes what happened in a criminal case against you. It has info like the charges, conviction, sentence, etc.

But to get a certificate of disposition, do you need to hire a lawyer? The short answer is no. These records are available directly through the court where your case happened. However, having a lawyer request records for you can make the process smoother.

What Is a Certificate of Disposition?

Let’s start with what this document actually is. A certificate of disposition (aka “certified disposition”) is an official court record showing how a criminal case ended. It is “certified” because it has a stamp or seal proving it’s real. The certificate includes:

  • The charges you faced
  • What you were actually convicted of
  • The date of conviction
  • Your sentence

This paper only covers one criminal case. If you have multiple convictions, you need separate certificates for each case.

A certificate of disposition is different from a criminal background check. A background check shows all the cases you’ve ever had. The disposition certificate goes into more detail on how one specific case played out. It doesn’t summarize your whole rap sheet.

Why Would I Need to Get This Record?

There are a few common reasons you may need a certificate of disposition:

  • Applying for citizenship or a green card
  • Applying for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
  • Requesting a visa or travel permit
  • Applying for a professional license
  • Applying for a job
  • Applying for public housing

Basically, whenever you need to prove information about your criminal record, a certificate of disposition is useful. It provides more details than a basic background check.

Immigration applications in particular often require these certificates. Good “moral character” is required for most immigration benefits. Any criminal record – even a minor one – must be explained. The certificate of disposition shows immigration officials exactly what happened, which helps them assess your character.

How Do I Get a Certificate of Disposition?

To get this record, you need to contact the specific court where your criminal case happened. Different courts have different rules about records requests.

Here are some tips for getting your certificate of disposition:

  • Get the defendant’s full legal name right. This is crucial even if your name has changed.
  • You may need the case docket number or other ID number.
  • Be ready to show a photo ID to prove your identity.
  • There may be a processing fee, so ask about cost.
  • Processing can take anywhere from 0-14 days after you make the request.
  • You’ll need to request one certificate for each of your cases.

The court staff can explain the process when you call. Let them know you need a certificate of disposition. They’ll tell you what forms or IDs you need to submit.

Can a Lawyer Help Get My Disposition Certificate?

You don’t have to hire a lawyer to get a copy of your disposition certificate. These are public court records, so you can request your own. But having a lawyer handle it for you can make it easier.

Here are some ways a lawyer can help:

  • They’ll gather the correct documents. As we mentioned, you may need specific forms or ID numbers to make the request. Your lawyer will get all of this together for you.
  • They can go to the court in person. Some courts make you request dispositions in person. Your lawyer can go for you so you don’t have to take time off work.
  • They can check for outstanding fines. If you owe court fines, you may need to pay those before getting your record. Your lawyer will resolve any fine issues.
  • They know how to get sealed or expunged records. If your case was sealed or cleared from your record, there’s a special process to access those documents. Your lawyer will know how it works.
  • They can request fee waivers. If you can’t afford the processing fee, your lawyer may be able to get it waived.

Your lawyer can also review your certificate once you get it. They can look for any errors and advise if you need to get anything corrected.

Having an attorney handle the process reduces the headache for you. Just provide them the basic case details and they’ll take care of requesting and reviewing your certificate of disposition.

When Would I Need a Lawyer to Get the Certificate?

In most cases, you can get a basic disposition certificate on your own without legal help. But there are some situations where a lawyer’s assistance can be crucial.

Examples include:

  • Your record was sealed, cleared, or expunged. Extra legal steps are required to access these records.
  • You have convictions in multiple courts and jurisdictions. It’s tricky gathering all these records.
  • There are errors or missing information on your certificate. You may need to go to court to get these fixed.
  • You need a disposition certificate to appeal your conviction or sentence. Your appeal deadline is approaching.
  • You have outstanding warrants or fines that prevent you from accessing records. You need help resolving these.

For complicated situations like these, a lawyer’s expertise can be invaluable. An attorney who specializes in criminal records and disposition certificates will know all the intricacies of the process.

How Much Does a Lawyer Cost to Get a Disposition Certificate?

Lawyer fees for getting a disposition certificate aren’t too expensive. Many attorneys offer a flat rate for this service. Expect to pay $200 – $500. The exact cost depends on:

  • Your location – Large metro areas are more expensive.
  • Your lawyer’s experience – Lawyers with more expertise often charge more.
  • How many convictions you have – Each case requires a separate document request.
  • How complex your situation is – Complicated cases with sealed records cost more.

When you factor in how much time and hassle the lawyer saves you, the cost is usually worth it. Just be sure to get an estimate upfront so you aren’t surprised by the bill.

Should I Hire a Lawyer I’ve Worked With Before?

If possible, it’s best to hire a lawyer who already knows your criminal history and has represented you before. They will already have many details about your case and can request records more efficiently.

For example, your defense lawyer from the original criminal trial will be familiar with important facts like:

  • The court where you were tried
  • The judge who handled your case
  • The exact charges you faced
  • If your case was appealed or records were sealed

This background knowledge makes it easier for your lawyer to get your certificate quickly. You don’t have to explain your whole criminal history again.

Of course, this isn’t always an option. If your former lawyer has retired, switched firms, or you’ve moved, you may need to hire someone new. Just make sure to gather all the key case details so your new lawyer has what they need.

What If I Have Convictions in Multiple States?

If you have criminal records in different states, the process gets more complicated. You’ll need to get disposition certificates from each state’s courts.

This is when having a lawyer is extremely helpful. Your attorney can coordinate with courts across multiple states to get all the records you need. They know how to navigate each court’s unique rules and systems.

If possible, hire a lawyer licensed in the state where you need the dispositions. They will best understand that state’s local court processes. Some lawyers have multi-state licenses, so they can pull records from any state.

Expect to pay more in legal fees if you need multi-state disposition certificates. But it saves you the headache of contacting various courts and figuring out different procedures.

What If There Are Errors in My Disposition Certificate?

Unfortunately, mistakes sometimes happen. If there are errors in your certificate of disposition, you’ll need to get them fixed.

Some common errors include:

  • Wrong charges or convictions listed
  • Incorrect conviction or sentencing dates
  • Misspelled names
  • Missing information about your sentence

First, contact the court and ask them to correct the errors. Your lawyer can handle this for you. The court clerk will review your case file and may issue an updated disposition certificate.

If talking to the clerk doesn’t work, your next step is to file a motion with the court asking for corrections. This is more complicated and requires a hearing before a judge. Again, your lawyer can handle this process for you.

Getting inaccuracies fixed is important if you’re using your disposition for an immigration application or professional license. Even small mistakes could make you look dishonest. Your lawyer can ensure your certificate matches exactly what happened in your case.

Can a Lawyer Help Seal My Criminal Record?

In some cases, you may be able to have your criminal record sealed or expunged. This can help give you a fresh start professionally and personally. The process varies by state but generally involves petitioning a court.

Some instances when you may be able to seal a record include:

  • Your charges were dismissed or you were found not guilty
  • Your conviction was vacated or overturned on appeal
  • You completed a diversion program to avoid conviction
  • You meet the state’s waiting period after a misdemeanor or low-level conviction

An attorney experienced with record sealing can review your disposition certificate. They can advise if you are eligible to clear your record. If so, they’ll handle the whole petition process for you.

Clearing your criminal record limits public access to your disposition certificate. Most employers and landlords won’t see it. Your lawyer can help give you a clean slate.

The Bottom Line

While you can request a basic disposition certificate on your own, hiring a lawyer makes it much easier. They’ll gather paperwork, resolve fines, access sealed files, and correct any errors.

If your situation is complex, legal expertise can be critical. However, even for straightforward cases, a lawyer reduces headaches. Paying a few hundred dollars could be worth it for the convenience and peace of mind.

So while you don’t need an attorney to get a disposition certificate, having one in your corner can be extremely helpful. Consider talking to a lawyer about handling the process for you.