Sealing and Expunging Criminal Records in Wisconsin
According to the Wisconsin Public Records Law, the records can be inspected or viewed by members of the public, including landlords and potential employers. As a result, a record holder’s access to jobs, accommodation, and public assistance may be limited. As such, many convicted persons opt to conceal criminal records by sealing or expunging them.
Wisconsin Courts have the authority to seal or expunge criminal records in the state. According to the Wisconsin Revised Statutes, expunging or sealing a criminal record protects the file from public view by deleting the entire case file or making the document confidential. Although other conditions apply, expungements are only available to individuals that have been convicted for committing crimes.
The Difference Between Sealing and Expunging Criminal Records
While record sealing only implies that a criminal or arrest record has been made confidential, expungements completely clear the records from the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access (WCCA) website, along with all references to the defendant. Despite being unavailable to all types of arrests and convictions, an expungement is the more sought after option because it offers the defendant a clean slate.
It is important to note that expungement orders in Wisconsin only apply to the court system. While the court destroys all references to the case after an expungement order is given, other government repositories that have the criminal record in their possession are not mandated by law to do the same. Hence, they may possess records of already expunged criminal records.
Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching more straightforward, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:
- The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
- The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that the person resides in or was accused in
Third-party sites are independent of government sources and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.
How to Seal a Criminal Record in Wisconsin
Under Chapter 801 of the Wisconsin statutes, an individual may move a motion to seal and restrict access to a record if the document is not protected by state or federal law. Once the motion is filed, the court restricts public access to the file in question until the court rules on the motion. To proceed, the motion to seal must be served on all parties involved in the case. The court determines if there is reasonable cause to seal the record according to the law. Eventually, the court clerk will be required to mark the document as closed if the court grants the order.
What Crimes Can Be Expunged in Wisconsin
The Wisconsin court may only expunge a conviction record if;
- The crime was the first conviction, and the defendant was under age 21 at the time of conviction
- The defendant was under the age of 25 when the offense was committed
- The crime carried a maximum period of imprisonment of six years or less according to chapter 973 of the Wisconsin Statutes
- The defendant completed the terms of the sentence
- The individual was convicted of committing a commercial sex act as a victim of human trafficking.
As a general rule in Wisconsin, the only people eligible to have their records expunged are those convicted of a crime. State laws permit the expungement of a conviction record when the petitioner has dutifully completed the sentence attached to the conviction, with no pending penalties or charges. For the court to consider the request, the convicted felon’s probation officer must also agree to the expungement. However, even if the stated criteria are fulfilled, not all criminal conviction records qualify for expungement. The Wisconsin State Expungement Law prioritizes juveniles because it mandates the court to automatically expunge juvenile conviction records if the individual is a first offender. Hence, delinquent juveniles are eligible for expungement on the condition that they display exemplary behavior and comply with the circumstances of their conviction.
How to Expunge Criminal Records in Wisconsin
Any individual seeking expungement in the state must petition the court at the time of the sentencing. The petition for expungement must be submitted after conviction to the original court where the case was tried, and the petitioner will be sentenced. An application form must be completed and submitted to the court for the judge to review and decide whether to grant the expungement or deny it.
Firstly, the individual’s probation agent or correctional institution must agree to the expungement by sending a certificate of discharge to the court. In effect, the court reviews the certificate along with all other required paperwork before granting the expungement. On the contrary, if the petitioner was not incarcerated but only sentenced to pay fines or restitution, they may request expungement using the application form after all obligations have been fulfilled.
It is advisable to ensure that the petitioner’s criminal conviction is eligible for the process. If the record is eligible for expungement, the individual must provide the following;
- the completed petition form
- contact information
- fingerprint record removal request
- name of the police agency that made the arrest
- all arrest charges and their sentences.
Although juvenile record expungements are automatic, the individual must also petition the court at the sentencing time. A complete JD–1780 expungement form is required for this purpose. It is important to note that some eligible criminal records may not be granted for expungement. The final decision depends heavily on the court’s discretion.
Do Sealed Records Show up In Wisconsin Background Checks?
Yes, sealed and expunged records show up in Wisconsin background checks.
Judges in the state can only order the expungement of criminal conviction records maintained by the circuit court, but not records stored by other agencies. Accordingly, expunged records cannot be removed from the Wisconsin criminal history repository. As a result, the department possesses expunged criminal conviction files that cease to exist in the state court system. Records maintained in the repository are open to the public. Therefore, on request, inquirers can access expunged criminal record information, including employers running background checks on job applicants.
Who Can See Sealed Criminal Records in Wisconsin?
Members of the public can access sealed or expunged criminal records from agencies other than the courts. Agencies involved in arrests or conviction of offenders in the state maintain records of the case as the defendant proceeds in the state criminal justice process. Hence, because the judge only has the authority to order the deletion or expungement of records from the court’s database, public members may retrieve expunged criminal records from the other agencies that store it.
Also, records that are merely sealed but not expunged are not deleted but kept confidential. Under such circumstances, the general public will not have access to the records, but law enforcement agencies will see it.
How to Obtain Sealed Records in Wisconsin
Generally, records expunged or deleted from the Wisconsin circuit courts remain accessible via other agencies. In addition to the state’s criminal history repository, the district attorney office, law enforcement departments, and the Department of Transportation may still possess the expunged records.
Although Wisconsin courts may not provide further information on expunged records, they may grant access to sealed ones under certain circumstances. Courts will generally deny access to sealed records, but they are mandated by law to provide specific reasons for the denial. Inquirers seeking access to the sealed records may challenge the denial in a mandamus proceeding. If the court determines that the reasons are sufficient and that disclosure of the record does not implicate the interests of the parties of the case, it will issue a decree for disclosure of the requested records.
In contrast, if the court determines that disclosing a record may implicate a party’s reputational or privacy interests, the individual must be notified of the request and given a reasonable time to agree to the petition or appeal against it. This process only applies to records exempted by court order and not records specifically exempted by state public records law or federal law.