If Charges are Dismissed, Do You Have a Criminal Record?

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Updated · Jul 26, 2023

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Imagine this – someone presses charges against you, but the authorities drop the case due to lack of evidence.

What happens next? If charges are dismissed, do you have a criminal record?

And if you do – does anyone have access to it? 

Before you panic, let’s start with a few terms that will help you understand your situation better.

What Is a Dismissed Case?

A dismissed case is when you don’t stand trial and haven’t been declared guilty of a criminal offense.

Cases can be voluntarily dismissed when the prosecutor chooses to do so. 

When a case is involuntarily dismissed, the judge decides to drop the case against the prosecution’s wishes. This usually happens because of a lack of evidence. 

But does that mean a clean criminal record for the defendant? 

If Charges are Dismissed, Do You Have a Criminal Record?

You’ll probably feel relieved to hear that your charges are dismissed. This is completely understandable, but don’t be fooled. You’re still not out of the woods.

Even if you’re not found guilty, you still got into the Legal system. And the only way out of there is in the company of a criminal record.

In the United States, arrests and charges are publicly available. 

The following may appear on a person’s criminal record:

  • Felony offenses
  • Misdemeanors crimes
  • Arrests
  • Convictions
  • Sentences or dismissals
  • And parole violations

The only exception is if your charges were dismissed while still a minor.

So now what? Are you forever branded as an almost outlaw? 

The short answer is No. There are ways to clear your criminal record

How To Clear Your Record

First of all, it’s important to note that if your charges were dismissed, this would be clearly stated in your record. Most employers and landlords will probably understand the difference and won’t judge dismissals as harshly as convictions.

However, if you want a completely clean slate, you’ll have to know how to delete your criminal record.

The procedure for sealing/expunging dismissed cases and convictions is quite similar.

Each state has its own rules and specifications. Nonetheless, there are some general guidelines to consider no matter where you live. 

First, you’ll have to fill out an application.

The United States also has a Rehabilitation Policy that helps people reenter society. You’ll have to complete all tasks and requirements of the program if you want to move forward with getting your record expunged.

Some people must also pay a fine before applying for clearance.

The court will take into consideration if you’re a first-time or repeat offender. Another factor is how much time has passed since you were charged.

Also, remember that clearing your record can be a greater challenge if you were accused of bigger offences. For example, you’re not likely to remove the following from your criminal record:

  • Violent felonies (such as weapons charges or first-degree murder)
  • Child pornography
  • Sex crimes
  • Felonies committed against a minor 

To save you some time, here are 3 steps to delete your crime history.

  1. Research the local laws and check the requirements to apply for getting your record expunged. In some states, you’ll have to wait 10 years to even submit such a request.
  2. If it looks like you’re eligible, do your homework and finish all the paperwork.
  3. The court will start investigating your case and might organize a hearing. There, it’ll decide whether to grant or deny your record clearance appeal.

Fun fact – Since 2006, authorities retain details of all recordable offenses until the individual reaches 100 years of age. After that, you’ll have a clean record.

Do Dismissed Charges Show up in Background Checks?

What is a background check? What shows up if someone digs deeper about you? 

The easiest way to find out is to do this yourself. This way, you can be prepared for what your employer or landlord might see. 

In case you’re not a close relative to Sherlock Holmes, these background check services will give you the help you need.

If you haven’t managed to delete your criminal record, all cases will show up. 

Every state is different, but on average, they show records for the last seven years. In fact, background checks can reveal a lot more than just a criminal record. 

Can a Dismissed Case be Reopened?

If the case was dismissed ‘’with prejudice’’, it’s gone for good. This means the prosecutor can’t bring any other lawsuit based on that claim. 

Therefore the decision is final and isn’t subject to further action. You can then file to clear your criminal records.

However, if the case is dismissed ‘’without prejudice”, it’s only temporarily closed. Usually, this means that the plaintiff has more time to gather evidence and the lawsuit can be filed again.

Wrap Up

Generally, the Legal system is supposed to punish when necessary but also give a chance for rehabilitation. The second part, though, is a bit tricky. 


Because next to food, water, and procreation, the survival of our species is due to the art of judgment. It’s an innate reflex, and we just can’t help it.

Many people who’ve been wrongfully accused of a crime have a tough time finding a job or renting a property. That’s why removing your criminal record is something worth trying.


Do police reports get deleted?

Some states keep their misdemeanor files between 5 and 10 years and their felony case records for 20 years. Then they get deleted. You can also apply for early deletion but keep in mind that the submission itself won’t automatically grant you public police record removal.

Do I have a criminal record if case was dismissed?

Yes, if charges are dismissed, you do have a criminal record. However, the report will clearly state that you’ve not been convicted.

Does your criminal record clear after 7 years?

No, it doesn’t. However, it’s less likely to show up during background checks. Under federal law, the consumer reporting agencies cannot report an arrest over seven years old. So at least to the public eye, your criminal record should look clean.


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