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What is a Rap Sheet?

Important Information about Rap Sheets

A common concern for people who have been arrested is what information shows up on a criminal rap sheet that potential employers can see when conducting a criminal background check. These same people usually want to know what they can do to clean up their rap sheet.

What is a Rap Sheet?

The term “rap sheet” is a list of someone's arrests and convictions and is also called a “criminal record” or a “record of arrests and prosecutions.”

Rap sheets are typically put together by governmental agencies, such as the California Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The information is confidential and can't be publicly released, but law enforcement will use this information to determine someone's criminal history and check for an active warrant.

A rap sheet has information on misdemeanor and felony convictions and any arrests and pending charges appearing on court records. Rap sheets are only accessible to certain people.  

It's an official record of arrests and prosecutions (RAP) with information about criminal charges, convictions, and case dismissals. Put simply, a rap sheet is the official record of your criminal history.

What Organizations Keep Track of Criminal Records?

Three primary organizations keep track of criminal records. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the CLETS system are controlled by California law enforcement agencies.

Further, private companies keep this information on criminal records, which then provide the info to employers who process criminal background checks on potential employees. Rap sheets are confidential and can only be accessed by yourself and certain people, like:

  • Police, sheriffs, and law enforcement officers,
  • peace officer agencies (when applying for a job),
  • judges,
  • prosecutors,
  • criminal defense lawyers,
  • state licensing agencies (for granting licenses),
  • state and county governments (when applying for a job),

To obtain your rap sheet, you must submit your fingerprints and a form.

As noted, different types of rap sheets are confidential. A potential employer can't access your arrest record if it didn't lead to a conviction unless it's a pending case. Employers are prohibited from accessing flawed check convictions if they are over seven years old.

If you were arrested but completed diversion, an employer is prohibited from accessing that information. Specific marijuana crimes are also not eligible for access by potential employers.

Some parts of your record could be accessible to the public, such as employers and landlords that perform a criminal background search on you, but they can't access your official governmental rap sheet. It will help if you understand what information on your public criminal record may or may not be accurate.

How Can You Get a Copy of Your Rap Sheet?

As mentioned, only certain people have access to your rap sheet. If you want a copy of your rap sheet to check its accuracy, you will need to make a request the FBI and DOJ.

You will have to provide proof of your identity by sending in a copy of your fingerprints and paying a processing fee. You will also need to include a completed application and verification of your identity. The FBI does not give out copies of arrest records to anyone except for the person on the form.

How Can You Clean Up Your Rap Sheet?

In California, there are several ways to clean up your rape sheep, such as:

  • Expungement – This process results in a criminal conviction being deleted from your rap sheet, but you must first be eligible for an expungement under state law. If successful, you don't have to disclose the information to a potential employer.
  • Pardon – This legal process is complex as it involves the state governor setting aside a criminal conviction. Again you first must be eligible to be pardoned under state law. You must apply, explain why a pardon is appropriate, and show how you have been rehabilitated from the crime.
  • Record sealing – This legal process removes juvenile records from public view. Again, you and the juvenile criminal history must first be eligible to be sealed under state law.
  • Certificates of rehabilitation – If successful, this court order will say you have been rehabilitated after a criminal conviction.

A rap sheet is different from a criminal record. Most criminal record background records will not include a rap sheet because they are only accessible to certain people, as mentioned above.

How Can You Clean Up Your Rap Sheet?

If you are concerned about your criminal record, contact a California criminal defense lawyer to review the details and discuss legal options moving forward.

As you can see from the discussion above, the information available through private search companies could have a life-altering impact.

A qualified defense lawyer can help you clean up your record, but you need to understand that it will not result in the records being wholly erased.

Most people who seek to clean up their criminal history do so for employment purposes. Eisner Gorin LLP has two office locations in Los Angeles County, California. You can contact our criminal defense law firm via phone or the contact form.

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