The Colorado Court of Appeals recently announced that you can't seal a successfully completed deferred judgment and sentence for a DUI offense. In the Matter of the Petition of Paige Harte, the Court found that Ms. Harte successfully completed a deferred judgment for her alcohol-related driving offense, but was not eligible to seal her record. The record sealing statute excludes convictions for alcohol-related driving offenses from eligibility. Therefore, the Court reasoned that the term "conviction" in the record sealing statute also applied to a successfully completed deferred sentence, even though Ms. Harte's case was dismissed and she ultimately was not convicted. If you're confused about this reasoning, you're not alone.
Due to this recent ruling, the benefits of a deferred judgment in the DUI context are minimal.
One of the "selling points" of a deferred judgment and sentence in any criminal case is the ability of a defendant to get the case off their record at the end of the deferred period by sealing all the records. It's another chance at a "clean slate".
The way a deferred works is that a defendant pleads guilty to a criminal charge, but the judgment of conviction is deferred for a set time period. During the set time period, the defendant complies with probation and stays out of trouble. If the defendant completes all the terms and conditions of the deferred judgment, his case will be dismissed with prejudice at the end of the deferred period. A defendant will typically want to seal all of the records associated with his case at the end of the deferred period. It essentially gives a defendant a "fresh start" or a second chance at life with a clean and clear criminal history. Once the records are sealed, Colorado law provides that a defendant can also deny the record and indicate that no such record exists.
A dismissal is a great result in any criminal case because the percentage of cases that result in a dismissal are low. However, a dismissal should also come with the benefit of a defendant being able to seal his or her record.
In today's competitive job market, the majority of companies run some sort of a criminal background check on prospective applicants. According to the National Consumer Law Center, 93% of employers run criminal background checks on some applicants and 73% of employers run criminal background checks on all applicants.If an applicant has a record that has been properly sealed, the company should not be able to find the record and the applicant can lawfully state, under Colorado law, that he/she has not been arrested and no such record exists. Essentially, the applicant can answer "no" to a criminal background question (assuming that he/she has no other criminal history records).
On the other hand, if an applicant has a record that has been dismissed, all of the records will likely still appear in a person's background. And often times, even though no conviction enters on a dismissed case, many potential employers are reluctant to hire an applicant with a "criminal history". It seems that often times employers do not distinguish between an arrest, charge, and a conviction. Thus any record of criminal activity, regardless of the actual outcome, may negatively impact a job applicant. Thus it is unfortunate to see that the Colorado Court of Appeals has determined that the benefits of a record seal do not apply to those who have successfully completed a deferred sentence in a DUI case.