People often contact us and want to know if they must disclose their criminal history on an application. This comes up a lot because people are constantly applying for things, whether it is for jobs, schools, loans, apartments, etc. Since this comes up so frequently, it is important people understand how to answer these questions so that their applications are viewed favorably.
When we are asked whether or not a person must disclose his or her criminal history on an application, the first thing we respond with generally is, “well, what does the application say?” We are not being facetious. We ask it because it’s an important question. Most applications are different and are asking for different things. Some ask people if they have ever been convicted of a felony; others ask people if they have been arrested; several ask people if they have ever been charged with a crime or convicted of a crime. Understanding the question that is being asked is most of the battle. If an application asks if you have ever been convicted of a felony, you do not need to disclose the littering summons you received when you were 16.
Since the details of the question being asked are so important, it is just as important that you know the exact details of your criminal history. Were you arrested? Were charges filed? What level of offense were you charged with? How was the case ultimately resolved? It may sound strange, but most people do not understand the circumstances and facts around their contact with law enforcement or the judicial system. It is not unusual for us to talk to someone and have them asked us a question about their “felony conviction” and then when we pull the record, we find out they received a deferred prosecution on a petty offense dog off leash charge. Or, we will receive a call from someone asking about a “small problem” they had a few years ago and we find out the person served substantial prison time. In order to know how to respond appropriately to questions about your criminal history, you need to invest the time necessary to understand what your criminal history is.
If you have a criminal history and you determine it must be disclosed on an application, what can you do about? The first thing you can do is determine whether you might be eligible to seal the record. In Colorado, criminal records can be sealed under a variety of circumstances. First, if you were arrested and charges were never filed, or charges were brought against you and were eventually dismissed or you were acquitted, you may be eligible to seal the record. Additionally, if you were convicted of a drug offense and a certain period of time has passed and you have not been convicted of any new offenses, you may be eligible to seal the record. Many municipal and petty offenses can also be sealed depending on the amount of time that has passed. Under the law in Colorado, once a record is sealed, a person can legally say that the incident never happened and, therefore, not need to be disclosed on an application. Because of this, it is always advisable that you contact an attorney to determine if your record can potentially be sealed.
All hope is not lost if you have a record that can’t be sealed and must be disclosed. We tell our clients in this situation to be prepared to explain the record. We do not mean simply be able to say that you have a conviction but it is not what it seems like; we mean be excessively prepared. Memorize a pitch, get letters from experts in criminal law explaining the legal meaning of your records, recognize and be ready to explain what positive skills you may have gained from this unique life experience. The odds are you will be explaining this record for a long time. Putting sometime and effort in to learn how to most effectively and advantageously explain it to people is essential.
These are just a few tips for determining if you need to disclose your criminal history on an application and, if so, how best to handle it. This information may not be applicable in every situation. It is important you contact a knowledgeable attorney for information tailored to your specific circumstances. And remember, the easiest way to know if you have to disclose a criminal record is by avoiding one all together. If you are arrested or charged with a crime, a criminal defense attorney may be able to handle the case in a way that you do not have a permanent conviction or record. Our criminal defense attorneys can be contacted via the contact form on our website and are happy to help you.