One of the most common questions I get from criminal law clients is, “Will this be on my record?” Under current Georgia law, a criminal defendant has a record from the moment he is booked into the jail for his offense. A subsequent dismissal of the charges, or acquittal at trial, does not erase the record of the arrest. The remedy to clear an arrest record is to request an expungement, which was only available in select circumstances.
As of July 1, 2013, Georgia law changed and provides greater protection to those charged with offenses that do not result in convictions, as well as for many youthful offenders (those under the age of 21 years), whose misdemeanor charges do result in a conviction. Under the new law, arrests that do not result in a conviction will be restricted, meaning that the records will only be available to select governmental agencies and court personnel. The records will not be publicly available. There are some exceptions, such as in cases where there was a ruling that excluded vital evidence from trial, or where the individual has been arrested for the same offense multiple times, but generally, this affords greater protection to criminal defendants so that a minor offense that is later dismissed, or a wrongful arrest, will not haunt them for the rest of their lives.
The new law provides incredible opportunities for youthful offenders to earn a clean slate. There is a new provision that applies to offenders under the age of 21, who are convicted for a misdemeanor offense, but successfully complete probation and do not get in any more trouble for a period of 5 years. Such individuals can petition the court to restrict the record of the arrest and conviction, giving them a clean record. This can be a huge help to young adults charged with offenses such as Theft by Shoplifting or Minor in Possession of Alcohol. There are certain offenses that cannot be restricted, such as sexual offenses, theft and Driving Under the Influence, but this new law will help the majority of youthful offenders.