Are Police Arrests Public Record?
Arrest records contain several pieces of information about the arrest and the events that led up to it. It also includes every detail about the person who got arrested. In some cases, details about the crime victim are also mentioned in the record. Whether or not the record will be made available to the public is something that will depend on the circumstances of the arrest and the laws of the state.
What is the General Rule?
In general, arrest records are public records but there can be exceptions. This is because the decision ultimately lies in the hands of the state as to whether they want to disclose the arrest records to the public or not.
Why Are Arrest Records Sometimes Kept Private?
Sometimes several risk factors are associated with releasing an arrest record to the public. One of the most common examples is when the arrested can be harmed by the contents of the arrest record. The records might not indicate that no crime was imposed on the arrested, or that the charge was expunged or that the defendant was acquitted. The information that is present in the arrest record might not be up-to-date or accurate.
So, when the above-mentioned conditions occur, the state has the right to keep the arrest records private. In that case, a balancing test will be conducted which will weigh the arrested individual’s privacy and the public’s interest in the arrest record. In the end, the result will determine whether the information will be given to the public or not.
There is something that is noticed by courts in those states that have given the public limited access to the arrest records in the past. They held that arrest sheets can be made public when they involve some kind of awareness about law enforcement officers or crime rates. But, on the other hand, making a personal arrest record public may bring harm to that particular individual and is thus sometimes kept private.
Here are some of the reasons why arrest records are sometimes kept private –
- Ongoing Investigation – Arrest records for individuals who are currently under investigation are usually not disclosed to the public because of the different statutes like the federal Freedom of Information Act.
- Expungement – In those cases, where the individual had committed the crime as a juvenile or was acquitted of all charges and was proved to be innocent, the arrest records are sealed or expunged. Moreover, there are some states which allow arrest records to be expunged when the crime committed was not something major like shoplifting or disorderly conduct.
- Public Safety - If the record endangers the safety of the public, then it might be closed. This is done because in some major cases, the law enforcement might feel that the arrest record of an individual can be a threat to the public, in general.
- Sex Crimes – Arrests related to sex crimes are the ones that are made public more. Convicted individuals have to register in the sex offender registry of the state they belong to. But the decision lies in the hands of the state to allow this information about sex offenders is to be made public or not. This generally depends on the circumstance of the case.
In order to ensure equal employment, the state prohibits employers from accessing the expunged or sealed arrest records as well. Background checks pretty much contain everything just like arrest records. Looking for arrest records that are public have been made so easy nowadays because you can easily search them through the various law enforcement websites. All you need is the state of residency and the legal name to conduct the search.