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In Georgia, public records may be deleted from public access either by a provision of the state statute or following the record subjectâ€™s petition to the record custodian, backed up with a tangible reason to have the record deleted. Despite this, not all public records may be deleted from public access, only some court records containing confidential information, and records statutorily exempted from the Georgia Open Record Act may be deleted. In Georgia, the expunction of a record does not take the form of total erasure or deletion of a person's record, it simply translates to its restriction from public view. Such record can still be accessed by criminal justice officials alone for:
- Employment purpose,
- Criminal investigations purpose, and
- Law enforcement purpose, even after the restriction is approved.
Individuals have different reasons for seeking to get their records expunged, some of these reasons are:
- To easily assess employment opportunities
- To protect their confidential information, such as their social security numbers, financial information, etc.
- The record in question has qualified for expungement and they wish to have a fresh start
- To protect juveniles listed in the public record and their personal information
- To conceal a public record that contains sensitive details that may have an adverse effect on their image
What is a Public Record in Georgia?
The Georgia Open Record Act, Â§ 50-18-70.b(2) defines a public record as any document regardless of its form, generated during the performance of a public function and maintained by a government agency for future use. Public records appear in the form of papers, books, tapes, maps, documents, photographs, letters, data, computer-based or generated information, data fields, or any similar material.
Georgia residents have the right to inspect public records to ensure that government entities can be monitored, hence, making the government accountable to state residents. With access to the government's public records, residents can have an in-depth understanding of the workings of the law. This ensures a form of responsibility, efficiency, Â and transparency on the part of the government. Also, in other cases, access to public records makes it possible to conduct background checks on individuals when it is needed. Â
In Georgia, following the Georgia Open Records Act, all public records are open for copying and personal inspection upon request, except those who by law, or on the order of the court are exempted. Also, this exception extends to situations where the record's subject requests that the record be expunged or restricted for reasons such as confidentiality of the record.
Examples of public records that do not require public disclosure include but are not restricted to the following:
- Veterinary or Medical records
- Records of prosecution, regulatory agencies, or law enforcement, in any pending prosecution or investigation of unlawful or criminal activity, other than the initial incident reports and the initial police arrest reports;
- Personal information records, such as social security number, credit card information, mother's maiden name, bank account information, etc
- Records with an express exemption of public inspection according to Code Sections 47-1-14 and 47-7-127;
- Tax matters or tax information records confidential under both federal and state law.
Does Georgia allow Expungement?
Yes, Georgia allows expungement. However, this does not mean the total erasure of the record. It merely restricts the record and prevents public access. Also, for most criminal convictions, there is a waiting period that must be fulfilled before the court will approve a petition to expunge the record. This implies that during this waiting period, expunction cannot take place.
How Do I Expunge My Criminal Record in Georgia
The Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA), Â§35-3-37(j) highlights the eligibility requirements for the expungement of criminal records, also known as record restriction. Categories of conviction and non-conviction records that can be expunged in Georgia include but are not restricted to:
- Pardoned felony convictions Â§35-3-37(j)(6)
- Human trafficking victims Â§35-3-37(j)(6)(a)
- Conditional discharges and misdemeanors Â§35-3-37(j)(4)(A)
- First time offender for drug possession Â§35-3-37(h)(2)(B)
- Diversion and pretrial release
- Records of the Crime Information Centre Â§35-3-37(h)(1)
After a charging instrument is filed, records dismissed will be automatically restricted if all charges â€œwere reduced to a local ordinance violation, dismissed, or nolle prossed.â€ Â§ 35-3-37(h)(2).
Note that record restriction in Georgia only applies to individual charges and not the complete criminal history record of a person. Where there are multiple charges on an individual's record, each charge has to be treated separately to have the whole charge restricted.
Generally, in Georgia, records can be restricted in either of these ways:
- By petition
In situations where a person's case did not lead to prosecution, the restriction is automatic. The length of time which is measured by the severity of the crime committed is as follows:
- For a felony, the length of time is four years;
- For a misdemeanor, two years; and
- For sexual-related offenses or offenses of severe violence, it is seven years. In this case, the restriction may be temporal if the prosecution decides to take up the case.
Other cases where record restriction is automatic include:
- Where two no bills are returned by the grand jury
- The sentence was under a conditional discharge
- One no bill is returned by the grand jury and the relevant length of time as seen above has lapsed
- The case was dismissed after being referred to the prosecution
- The charge was nolle prossed or dismissed
- The court acquitted the defendant (unless the prosecutor challenges the restriction within 10 days of the court's verdict)
- The offender successfully completed a veterans treatment program, mental health, or drug court treatment program.
This comes into play when a person is not eligible to have their records automatically restricted. It becomes an option if:
- The conviction is reversed or vacated by an Appellate Court.
- The case has been on a "dead docket" for over 12 months. A dead docket refers to a list of inactive criminal cases that have not been resolved or dismissed. A case being on a dead docket implies that the prosecutor wants the case to be postponed indefinitely. While the case is not dismissed, the case will not appear on the judge's docket unless the court orders that it be placed back on the active trial calendar.
- The person was prosecuted for a misdemeanor as a youthful offender
- The personâ€™s felony charge was dismissed, but was found guilty of an unrelated misdemeanor.
- The person has not been arrested and charged with a criminal offense in the last five years.
A person seeking to expunge a record by petition should file a written petition which should include the following:
- The OTN (Offender Tracking Number) for the charge specifically sought to be restricted.
- Draft Order
- Evidence that the criminal record is hindering progress and causing harm
- Prior case final disposition
- Filing fee or an affidavit of indigency accompanying a petition to waive the fee
After the petition has been served, all relevant agencies must also get copies.
The automatic restriction applies mainly to persons arrested after July 1, 2013. Persons arrested before July 1, 2013, who are eligible for automatic restriction may make an application to the arresting agency. Depending on the agency, a fee of not more than $50 may be required. To make the application, a three-section Request to Restrict Arrest Record Request Form Â must be signed by all applicable parties, including:
- Section 1 - Individual
- Section 2 - Arrest agency
- Section 3 - Prosecutor
Once completed, the information is added to the Georgia Crime Information Centre's (GCIC) database by the prosecutor. The arresting agency will then get a notification of the successful restriction, but if the prosecutor is unable to add the information, it goes back to the arresting agency. After this, the applicant will need to send the approved application to the GCIC, alongside a $25 fee for processing. The $25 processing fee may be paid by money order or check, payable to â€œGeorgia Bureau of Investigation.â€ The approved application and fee may be mailed to:
Georgia Crime Information Center
P.O. Box 370808
Decatur, GA 30037-0808
The applicant will receive an email notification when the restriction has been added to the petitioner's criminal history, within 30 days after the entry of the disposition into the GCICâ€™s database. The status of the application can be checked by email to email@example.com or by calling 404-244-2639.
However, if the applicant seeks a hearing on account of the petition, the judge will hear a testimony on the suitability of the restriction within 90 days. After the hearing, if the judge determines that a record restriction is suitable, an order will be signed and the applicant is required to file it with the Superior Court Clerk. A Motion to Seal Clerk of Court Records may be found on the Georgia Justice Project website. Suppose charges were initially handled at another court that is not a Superior Court, a civil petition must be filed with the court to restrict the record. Here, there will be a petition fee of $200. Persons who cannot afford the fee must file a Petition In Forma Pauperis and Affidavit of Indigency with the petition for restriction. A copy of the Petition and Draft Order must be filed with the prosecuting counsel of the original case. If the judge determines that a record restriction should be approved, the signed order from the judge must be taken to the Clerk of the Court where the case was resolved.
Juvenile adjudication records expungement according to Official Code of Georgia Annotated Â§15-11-701, is available to juveniles subject to the following:
- A petition was not filed alleging delinquency
- The juvenile is adjudged not to be a delinquent
- Since final discharge, two years have elapsed and no misdemeanor or felony has been committed since then, and there are also no pending proceedings
- After the case was transferred to the Juvenile Court or in the case of a petition alleging delinquency, the proceeding was dismissed.
In cases like this, the only person eligible to apply is the record subject. There are some counties where automatic expungement applies when such juveniles reach the age of 18. However, if this is not the case, an application similar to the provision for adults should be taken.
Will my Expungement Record Show up on a Background Check in Georgia?
When a record is restricted, it ceases to appear on the GCIC Criminal records history and on a Non-FCRA Compliant background check. However, information about the charge will remain available at the detention or jail centers and in the custody of the Court Clerk. It is also still within the scope of the law for such information to be made available to employers by private background check companies. If an individual's restricted record shows up on a private background check, the company should be contacted requesting the record's elimination, providing them with a disposition showing their eligibility for restriction or a copy of the approved restriction application.
Following the new law effective on the 1st of July 2013, a request can be sent to the Court Clerk to restrict the records against private companies. The accuracy of such information can be challenged if the record is sealed and an individual can have such information removed.
How to Seal a Record in Georgia
Eligible persons pursuant to OCGA Â§35-3-37 can apply to seal their records by taking the following steps:
- Proceed to a local law enforcement agency to obtain their GCIC official criminal records history. Note that the official criminal record may be necessary for a petitioner to be certain about the particular information contained in the official record.
- Obtain from the Court Clerk where the case was handled, the certified copy of the final disposition
- Prepare, sign, and date the motion to seal
- Provide the case number, as well as the Offender Tracking Number(OTN)
- Include the required documentation, as well as the final disposition of the original case, but not including a copy of the criminal history
- Make three copies of the documents provided
- Present the Motion alongside the Certificate of Service, and Draft of Order at the Criminal Division of the Superior Court in the Georgia county where the offense occurred
- File a copy of the Motion and Draft Order to the prosecuting counsel of the original case by mail or in-person
Who Can See My Sealed Record in Georgia?
Once a record is sealed, it is inaccessible to members of the general public, although, per the OCGA Â§35-3-37, these criminal records are still accessible to:
- Judicial officers
- Criminal justice agencies
- Law enforcement agency
This is allowed for law enforcement purposes and criminal investigation purposes. The Criminal Justice agencies may be granted access for employment purposes done in line with the Georgia Criminal Information Centre procedure. Potential employers are also entitled to know the arrest history of intending employees who got their records restricted. Such employers should also be aware of the absence of conviction and the fact that the restriction process has been completed.
How to Delete Bankruptcy Records in Georgia
The credit reporting agencies do not get any information from the Bankruptcy Court in Georgia nor does the court have jurisdiction over the credit reporting agencies. Bankruptcy schedules, petitions, and the likes are public records. Credit reporting agencies are regulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), Section 605. Section 621 of the FCRA, which provides that the deletion of a Chapter 7 bankruptcy happens 10 years from the filing date. This type of bankruptcy does not require any debt repayment. On the other hand, deletion of Chapter 13 bankruptcy happens seven 7 years from the filing date. This type of bankruptcy requires a partial payment of the debt owed.
For more information on issues concerning credit reports, scores, and credit problems generally, you may contact the body that enforces the FRCA: Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Bureau of Consumer Protection, Education Division, Washington, D.C. 20580 at (202) 326-2222. The credit bureau(s) reporting the information may also be directly contacted. Examples of these are TransUnion Consumer Relations, Equifax Credit Information Services, and Experian National Consumer Assistance Center.
What are Consumer Protection Laws in Georgia?
Georgia Consumer Protection Laws are statutes that protect consumers in Georgia as well as legitimate businesses from deceptive and unfair practices that involve consumer transactions. Also, these laws ensure a hitch-free, non-fraudulent commercial transaction to consumers and in the event of a complaint, such should be filed with Georgia's Consumer Protection Division. Under Georgia's Consumer Protection Laws are Georgia's Lemon Laws, Georgia Privacy Laws Georgia Telemarketing Fraud Laws, and Georgia Antitrust Laws, etc.
How to Delete Lien Records in Georgia
Typically, liens are deleted by the payment of debts owed. As it varies from case to case, an understanding or negotiation can be reached by both parties as is acceptable to the creditor. When a debtor pays off the debt, the Georgia Lien Release form is filed to cancel previously filed lien instruments with the County Recorder. The release is then signed in front of a notary public who then affixes his seal and/or signs as a notary.
To search for a lien in Georgia, depending on what county it is, the relevant County Recorder's office should be visited or the website of the County Recorder where a simple search can be conducted.
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