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Tennessee Court Records

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Sealing and Expunging Criminal Records in Tennessee

In Tennessee, publicly accessible criminal records pose an enormous inconvenience to the record holders. Some of the limiting effects include hindering an individual’s chances of gaining employment, securing credit facilities, housing, running or being selected for political or public positions, and pursuing higher education. A way of dealing with the challenges posed by having a criminal record is to get the records sealed or expunged by a judge. Tennessee State Courts permits expungement, which is the removal and destruction of public records that show conviction. Expungement makes the conviction non-existent, making it inaccessible to requestors.

The Difference Between Sealing and Expunging Criminal Records

When a criminal record is sealed, the documents become unavailable for public viewing unless the requestor has a court order. Expungement translates to the complete removal and destruction of the documents, which show an individual’s arrest and conviction history. It also refers to the removal of case files from electronic databases. Once the court expunges a record, the individual can state that the offense or arrest never happened, even under oath.

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 Tennessee

In the state of Tennessee, criminal records cannot be sealed. If a criminal record is not eligible for expungement, then it remains a public record. However, juvenile records, which qualify for expungement under the Federal statutes, may be eligible for sealing.

What Crimes Can Be Expunged in Tennessee?

In the state of Tennessee, offenders with two convictions at most can request for expungement of both records at once. However, only convictions for non-violent felonies and misdemeanors are eligible for expungement, including:

  • Instances where there was no use or attempted use of force against another individual or property
  • Non-sexual offenses that do not require the offender to register as a sex offender in the state.
  • Cases where there was no use of firearm or weapon
  • Felony offense where physical force was not required to commit it.
  • Instances where the victim did not accrue a loss of over $25,000.

How to Expunge Criminal Records in Tennessee

According to the Tennessee Code for Criminal Procedure § 40–32–101, Tennessee criminal records are eligible for expunction if:

  • The offender was arrested and released without a charge.
  • The prosecution was not pursued in the case. It is also known as a nolle prosequi.
  • The court dismissed the charges or when a “no true bill” comes from a grand jury prosecution.
  • A non-guilty verdict.
  • The offender was part of a pretrial diversion program as seen in Tennessee Code § 40–15–102 to Tennessee Code § 40–15–107 or a judicial diversion program, according to Tennessee Code § 40–35–313 although, the expungement process costs $100.
  • Felony charges and the sentence for the offense was less than three years.
  • Five years have elapsed after completing the sentence.
  • No outstanding payment.

The expungement process involves filing a petition at the court where the case was prosecuted or filed initially. Requestors must provide information about the case for the expungement process. Parties that do not have this information at hand can visit the court clerk to obtain details. These records will generally have one of these four remarks: retired, dismissed with costs, dismissed, or nollied, and there are steps to be taken before the record to expunge the case file officially. The steps are;

  • Complete a request form (forms are unique to each county). It is necessary to obtain the right request form based on which remark the defendant’s record carries.
  • Highlight the charges or convictions that are eligible for expungement and file this information with the criminal court clerk accordingly.
  • After filing the information, to get a copy of the expungement order, the requestor will then submit a stamped envelope containing the petitioner’s address for each charge or conviction getting expunged. The court clerk will forward the documents to the applicant by submitting this envelope, signifying the expungement process is valid.
  • The requester will receive certified copies of the expungement order and charging documents. The clerk also forwards the files to the judge in charge, who sends the documents to the necessary agencies. These parastatals include the arresting agency, Tennessee Department of Correction, the detention center, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, and others with records of these charges or convictions for complete expungement.

For individuals whose charges carry ‘dismissed with costs,’ this indicates that there are still outstanding court fees that have to be paid before expungement, although there may be a waiver in some cases. If the remark on the charge is ‘retired,’ this indicates the lawsuit is on hold for a long time. The offender will request to change the case to a dismissed case before initiating the expungement process.

Do Sealed Records Show Up In Tennessee Background Checks?

No. In Tennessee, if background checks are requested or carried out through any government agencies, expunged records will not show up in the search as case records are updated regularly in line with the expungement orders received. However, if the background check uses a private company, the case document might show up if it is a company that does not update its records often. The individual might need to contact the agency to get it removed from the public domain.

Who Can See Sealed Criminal Records in Tennessee?

There is no sealing of criminal records in Tennessee because the state does not have such a process, and the court expunges case files only. If the requesting party is eligible based on some of the conditions set, all documents about such a crime or conviction are destroyed and deleted from databases. Therefore, erasing the records from existence. So, the chances of anyone ever seeing the criminal records are zero to none.

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