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Sealing and Expunging Criminal Records in North Dakota

Criminal justice agencies in North Dakota maintain the criminal history information of all persons resident within the state’s jurisdiction. These agencies, including the North Dakota Judiciary, are also custodians of criminal records. Record custodians are bound by the North Dakota Open Records Law to release criminal records to requesters, except otherwise indicated by state statutes or sealed by court order.

The Difference Between Sealing and Expunging Criminal Records

Sealing and expungement are different terms and accomplish different objectives regarding criminal records in North Dakota. Per Chapter 12–60.1 of the North Dakota Century Code, to seal a criminal record means to render the information in the record inaccessible to the public. Consequently, the general public, private entities, and most government agencies cannot view or obtain sealed court records without a court order. On the other hand, expungement is the deletion or permanent destruction of the information in a criminal record. In this case, no entity (public or private) may access the record.

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.

Eligibility Requirements to Seal a Criminal Record in North Dakota.

Chapter 12–60.1 of the NDCC outlines the statutory requirements to seal criminal records in North Dakota. These requirements include:

  • The court dismissed the charges, or the court wrongly convicted the individual;
  • The offense is a misdemeanor;
  • The individual has not been charged with a new crime for at least three years from the date of completing court-imposed penalties; and,
  • The individual is guilty of a felony offense eligible for sealing and has not been indicted for at least five years.

How to Expunge a Criminal Record in North Dakota

Currently, North Dakota laws limit expungement to a few offenses, and the court will consider circumstances surrounding the offense. Some of these include juvenile crimes, possession of marijuana, and crimes committed as a victim of human trafficking. If eligible, the process of expunging a criminal record is not complicated, and an individual may complete it without legal assistance. However, requestors are advised to employ an experienced attorney’s services to accomplish this objective.

The North Dakota Judiciary provides systematic instructions regarding the eligible crimes and the procedure for expungement. Generally, the individual begins by requesting criminal history information from the Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI). The individual must then file a petition to expunge in the District Court where the case was filed. The presiding judge shall consider the merits of the case and decide whether to grant the expungement or not.

How to Seal a Criminal Record in North Dakota

Just as there are limitations to the expungement of criminal records, there are exemptions and rules to follow when requesting to seal a criminal record. However, the restrictions concerning sealing criminal records are not as limiting as expungement. First, the individual must ensure that they meet the criteria mentioned above and other criteria in Chapter 12.60–1.

To confirm that the crime is eligible for sealing, the individual may request criminal history information from the BCI. The individual must also follow court-established instructions for sealing criminal records. Generally, the petitioner must file a petition that names the arresting agency and the prosecutor as respondents. Also, the individual must attach two essential documents to the petition. These include a proposed order to seal and proof of service of the petition and order upon the respondents.

The petition must bear the individual’s personal information and address. Furthermore, it must state clearly the reasons that the court must consider and grant the order to seal. Also, the petition must include the individual’s criminal history information. It may be useful to attach a copy of the criminal history information. The proposed order must also contain details outlined in the guideline.

Upon completing the process of filing a petition, the court shall schedule a hearing date not earlier than 45 days after receiving the petition. Court hearings for sealing follow a trial style where the petitioner and prosecutor make arguments for or against the case. After that, the judge makes a declaration to seal or deny the petition. A petitioner may appeal to a municipal court ruling that prohibits sealing, but the individual may not appeal to a district court. Furthermore, if unsuccessful, the petitioner must wait for at least three years before initiating another petition to seal.

In deciding whether to grant the order to seal, the presiding judge shall consider the following:

  • The nature and severity of the crime;
  • The potential risk that the offender poses to society;
  • The length of time since the individual committed the offense;
  • Rehabilitation and probation records since the offense;
  • Aggravating or mitigating factors relating to the crime before and after the individual’s conviction;
  • The individual’s criminal record, employment history, and community service activities;
  • Recommendations from law enforcement, prosecutors, corrections officials, and credible entities in the individual’s community;
  • Recommendations of the victims.

What Crimes Can Be Sealed or Expunged in North Dakota?

Individuals can request to seal most North Dakota crimes, but the court can only expunge certain crimes. North Dakota courts may allow the sealing of misdemeanors and felonies except when the crime involved a dangerous weapon, intimidation, crimes against children, and sex crimes. However, regarding expungement, the court may only grant petitions to expunge juvenile offenses, records related to victims of human trafficking, possession of less than one (1) ounce of marijuana, and records of unconstitutional arrests.

Do Sealed Records Show up In North Dakota Background Checks?

No, sealed criminal records do not show up on background checks in North Dakota. Upon granting the petition, the court shall order agencies in possession of the criminal record to deny public requests to view the records. However, this order is only binding on custodians within the state’s jurisdiction. Bear in mind that the law does not allow the sealing of certain information in criminal records. These ineligible records are part of reports submitted to the Bureau of Criminal Information (BCI) and its affiliates.

Who Can See Sealed Criminal Records in North Dakota?

Only the record custodian can see sealed criminal records in North Dakota. Other private entities and even government agencies must obtain a court order to access sealed criminal records.

How to Obtain Sealed Records in North Dakota

Unless otherwise provided by state statutes, the requester must petition the court to unseal the record before the record custodian grants access to such a record. The requester is often required to demonstrate reasons that outweigh the subject’s privacy concerns or the statutory basis of sealing. In selected cases, a court order cannot unseal a criminal record. An example is sealed records of first offender marijuana possession, as stated in N. D. Cent. Code § 19–03.1–23(9).

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