Wrongful Arrests and Sealed Records
When an individual is acquitted of criminal charges, the arrest and trial record for that charge is sealed. The rationale for this rule is that people who are innocent of criminal charges shouldn’t have a criminal record. After all, arrests, by themselves, mean nothing other than that a person was accused of committing a crime – not that the person actually did anything wrong. Why should an innocent person suffer negative consequences for a false accusation?
But criminal defense can be expensive. And a falsely accused person might want to sue the individual or governmental agency that made or wrongly pursued the criminal accusations for the cost of defending against them.
When this happens, the agency that pursued the case, or the individual that made the accusations, may be able to unseal the criminal records. This, in a sense, is only fair. In order to prevail with a wrongful prosecution claim, the former criminal defendant will have to show that the prosecutors had no reasonable basis for pursuing the criminal charges. The prosecutors wouldn’t be able to prove that they had a reasonable basis for pursuing the claim if they couldn’t access the arrest and pretrial records. Courts have stated that former criminal defendants can use the sealed records law as a “shield” to guard them from the consequences that accompany a criminal record, but not as a “sword” to stop prosecutors from defending their actions.
This policy is fair for the prosecutors, but problematic for the criminal defendant. It means that, in order to pursue a wrongful prosecution or wrongful arrest claim, the former defendant will have to open up arrest records. This could affect the former defendant’s employments, or yield other unwanted results. For this reason, the former defendant will have to argue for limited unsealing.
Criminal Attorney on Long Island
If you have any questions about this or other legal issues, call the Law Firm of Vaughn, Weber & Prakope, PLLC today, at 516-858-2620.