When Public Records Go Private

Law

When Public Records Go Private

Justin Lavelle

November 9, 2015

Public records tend to be fairly clearly defined but there are gray areas, and in many cases what constitutes a public record can vary from state to state. In most cases, you can count on criminal records, death notifications, property and business records to be found within a public records database search, pending the fact that the county or state in question has digitized them.

However, there are a number of examples where once public records have been sealed, expunged or otherwise removed from the record. It’s important to keep in mind just because you can’t identify a public record, even something you are certain should exist, it doesn’t mean that the associated event did not happen. It just means the person affected took certain steps to remove the item from his or her public record.

Here are three common examples of such a move:

Criminal Record Expungement

Most people don’t want to have a criminal incident listed on a personal public record. Many people will go through the necessary work to take advantage of expungement if they meet the criteria. Lawyers.com defines expungement as “when someone’s criminal history or background is erased or hidden, so that, except in very limited circumstances, no one can ever find out that person was ever arrested for or convicted of crime.”

The laws for expungement vary greatly from state to state and there tends to be more of a chance of removing a criminal record for first time and/or minor offenses, or for those who have completed rehabilitation or other court-ordered programs.

Divorce and Child Custody

Divorce is typically public record, but in cases involving children the details and related records can be sealed by the court for the purpose of protecting a minor’s privacy. It’s important to note, however, that a person may still be associated with an ex-spouse in any number of other public record contexts, including owning property or having jointly paid utility bills.

Social Media Profiles

Many people are surprised to find that social media profiles, both current and historical, can appear on a public records search associated with their name. While default public settings on most social media profiles are public, it is not difficult to shield a social media profile by adjusting privacy settings. The highest privacy settings will often block any record of the profile existing, except to other approved users.

Disclaimer: The above is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.