How to Expunge my Public Records in Alabama

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Having public records in the public domain is not new. In the past, anyone would have to visit public and government-run repositories to view public records. However, access to public records has been taken to an entirely different level, as anyone can now conveniently access a public record from anywhere. Most public records out there contain some form of private and sensitive information which their subjects will ordinarily not want to have in the public if given a choice. There are a lot of third-party websites in Alabama that brokers public records. It implies that anyone can purchase any information online at the detriment of the person named on such a record.

In Alabama, people seek to delete their public records for a range of reasons. Stalking, identity theft, and telemarketing scams are some vices associated with easy access to public records online. Anyone will choose to clean their personal information off the public domain and avoid falling victim to these vices than leave them. However, deleting a public record permanently in Alabama is not technically possible. The state has other means of restricting access to a person's public record. Anyone who intends to limit public access to their public record in Alabama can visit the appropriate record custodian and ask the following questions:

  • What method can be used to restrict public access to their record
  • The information that can be deleted or modified
  • The chance of changing their contact address on public documents to a mailing address
  • The cost of going through the entire process of record deletion or preservation, whichever is applicable

Typically, any employee in the record repository will answer these questions and walk a person through the suitable procedure.

What is a Public Record in Alabama?

Public records in Alabama are official documents made or received by government officers in the transaction of official business. Public records may be handwritten or typed documents, letters, papers, printed books, and maps. They are maintained by the state, counties, municipalities, and various subdivisions of the Alaba government. In Alabama, public records also include any record authorized to be made by any law of the state belonging to any court of record or other public records approved by law. Government records are made to encourage transparency in governance.

According to the Alabama Public Records Law, every citizen has a right to view and obtain a copy of any public record of the state, except as otherwise expressly provided by law. However, the law does not specify what one must be a citizen of to qualify to request a public record; Alabama or the United States. The Alabama Public Records Law applies to all government branches and offices but exempts records of the state or public university libraries and records of security measures and architecture. It also excludes any records considered confidential and those of the safety of the citizens.

Generally, an Alabama public record can be accessed by submitting a request to the relevant agency. The Alabama Secretary of State receives most record requests by phone, mail, or email. A typical Alabama public record request should include, at the minimum, the subject's complete and accurate name and the requester's name and contact information. Some public records in Alabama are:

  • Court records
  • Criminal records
  • Bankruptcy records
  • Lien records
  • Arrest records

While these Alabama records are publicly available, persons named on them can restrict public access to them for personal reasons by either filing for expungement or sealing.

Does Alabama allow Expungement?

Yes. Alabama allows the expungement of certain records. Expungement is a legal process that cleans up adverse public information about a person. A 2014 legislation passed in Alabama makes the expungement process more broadly available to a lot of persons in the state. Although the state allows expungement, not all cases are eligible for it.

How do I Expunge My Criminal Record in Alabama?

The crucial reason people request expungement in Alabama is to clean up records of prior arrests for employment, education, licensing, housing, and loans. Alabama criminal record expungement is a process through which a person can obtain a court order to erase or destroy arrest records of non-convictions for violations, non-violent felonies, and misdemeanors. Such a person must file a petition with the proper court to get an expungement order. Currently, the state does not expunge convictions.

In Alabama, a non-felony charge, which includes a violation, a misdemeanor criminal offense, or a municipal ordinance violation, qualifies for expungement if they meet the following criteria:

  • The offender was found not guilty of the charge.
  • The charge was dismissed with prejudice.
  • The charge was dropped more than two years ago without prejudice and not refiled. Also, the offender has not been convicted of a new traffic violation (excluding minor ones), misdemeanor crime, or felony within the last two years
  • The Grand jury did not bill the charge.

The following conditions must be satisfied for a non-violent charge to be eligible for expungement in Alabama:

  • The offender must not be found guilty of the charge.
  • The charge was dismissed with prejudice.
  • The charge was no-billed by a grand jury.
  • The charge was dismissed five years ago without prejudice and was not refiled. Additionally, the offender must not be convicted of any other violation, felony, or misdemeanor crime in the five years.
  • The charge was dismissed at the end of a diversion program, drug court program, mental health court program, and any other court-authorized deferred prosecution program. More than one year must have passed after completing such a program

A petition for Alabama criminal record expungement must be filed with the Circuit Court in the location where a charge was filed. To start with, an offender must obtain a certified criminal history record from the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA). A completed Authorization to Release Criminal History Record Information and Release of Liability form is required for this purpose. Once certified, the petitioner should fill out the Petition for Expungement of Records form, attach their certified criminal history record, and then file with the District Court. The petitioner's sworn statement stating their offense is eligible for expungement should also be enclosed with their petition.

Typically, the District Attorney (DA) and law enforcement will be served with copies of the petition, while the DA makes an effort to inform the victims of the root criminal case. Identified victims and the DA has a maximum of 45 days to object to an expungement petition. If such an objection comes to the fore, there will be a hearing. If the court grants an Alabama criminal record expungement, all such records held by the various government agencies and the court will be expunged.

Alabama arrest record expungement for violent felony charges is impossible under current state expungement law. Alabama lists the following as violent felonies:

  • Assault I and II
  • Capital murder
  • Criminally careless homicide
  • Kidnapping I and II
  • Sexual torture
  • Sexual abuse
  • Rape I and II
  • Stalking
  • Soliciting a child by computer
  • Robbery I, II, and III
  • Terrorist threats and terrorism
  • Child abuse
  • Elder abuse
  • Promoting prison contraband

Will my Expungement Record Show up on a Background Check in Alabama?

An expungement record does not show up on background checks for expunged records in Alabama. Once the court issues an expungement order, the record and information about the expungement process will cease from being publicly accessible. What this means is that it will also not appear on employment background checks, thereby giving the person named on such a record a new start to life. However, employers who conduct non-FCRA compliant background checks risk severe financial fines and other penalties.

How to Seal a Record in Alabama

Record sealing and expungement are two words used interchangeably in Alabama. However, the state laws speak more of expungement, and as such, it is safe to conclude that expungement is currently the only official method for taking one's record off the public domain. Generally, record sealing is the process of erasing publicly available information from public access in a way that it will no longer be possible to access it by normal means, although it still exists. Anyone who intends to seal their records in Alabama can go through the state's expungement process to do so. They must, however, first determine that the information they wish to erase qualifies for expungement. Such a person will achieve the same or a better result in the end.

Who Can See My Sealed Record in Alabama?

Typically, expunged records in Alabama cannot be used for any non-criminal justice purpose. Any criminal agency with records on an expunged charge in the state must submit the same to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA). Expunged records may only be available to Alabama criminal justice agencies upon confirmation of a criminal case involving the person in the expunged record. In Alabama, the District Attorney(DA), law enforcement, and the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences can maintain investigative logs or files regarding a criminal record. However, once sealed from public disclosure, these agencies may no longer disseminate the case information regarding an expunged record for non-criminal justice use.

How to Delete Bankruptcy Records in Alabama

Bankruptcy records are public in Alabama, and no privacy regulations protect them from being available in the public domain. However, sensitive personal information of persons named on bankruptcy records will not be disclosed to any third party. Typically, it is individuals who can no longer pay their bills that file for bankruptcy in Alabama. It is a legal right to do so as provided by federal law. Once a person files for bankruptcy, creditors will stop seeking to collect their debts until they can make repayment plans.

A bankruptcy record has a devastating effect on a person's credit report. For instance, someone with a high credit score before filing for bankruptcy will experience a sharp drop in their credit score once filed. It will most definitely prevent such a person from obtaining new credit. According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), a bankruptcy record will remain on a person's credit history for some time, depending on the chapter of bankruptcy filed. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy can stay on a person's credit report for up to ten years from the date of filing. Similarly, a Chapter 13 bankruptcy can remain on a credit history for seven years. However, it is hard to remove a legitimate bankruptcy record.

Although the FCRA stipulates maximum periods for bankruptcies depending on the chapters filed, it is possible to delete a misreported bankruptcy record earlier than usual. The FCRA permits anyone to challenge an inaccurate and false bankruptcy record on their credit report. Any person in this type of situation in Alabama should write a  letter to the three major credit reporting agencies and notify them of such unfounded reports. Typically, the credit bureaus will review and delete such a bankruptcy record is proven to be true. However, the process is time-consuming, but it will be worth it in the end.

What are Consumer Protection Laws in Alabama?

Generally, consumer protection and privacy laws help consumers in challenging abusive business practices and holding businesses accountable for unfair treatments. Alabama has a couple of laws that ensure the privacy of consumers as they transact.

The Alabama Data Breach Notification Act of 2018 became effective on June 1, 2018, to prevent consumers' information. It applies to the state, county, municipality, private entities, and third-party agents. The Act sees a security breach as the unauthorized possession of data containing sensitive identifying information about a person. The Data Breach Notification Act stipulates that any entity covered by it should notify a person whose data has been fraudulently acquired not later than 45 days after the determination of the breach and a possibility of harm. The exception to this is if notifying the affected person will hinder an ongoing investigation. An intentional violation of the notification provision can attract up to $2,000 a day, up to a maximum of $500,000 per breach. However, government agencies are exempt from these fines but are still subject to the notice requirements. Other consumer and privacy laws in Alabama include the Alabama Right of Publicity Act and Insurance Data Security Law.

How to Delete Lien Records in Alabama

A lien is a legal claim against a person's assets, and it is a form of security for a debt in the hands of a creditor. Typically, a lien record is available to credit reporting agencies, and it is, therefore, a matter of public record. In Alabama, the government can equally file a tax lien against a taxpayer's assets for failing to pay up their tax.

Generally, the impact of a lien is severe and demands quick resolution (especially for tax lien). In Alabama, one way to remove a lien record is to have the lien released. To do this, a debtor must either pay off their debt at once or negotiate a repayment plan. Once this is done, they must ensure that the lien record is also deleted. For a person to determine whether a lien has been placed on their property in Alabama, they can search the county probate offices in the state. Some counties provide online services for lien records searches.

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