Probation is a more cost-effective and humane alternative to prison. It also aims to help offenders pay back their debt to communities through various activities like public services, working in government facilities, or volunteering at local charities.
However, if you’ve gone on probation, it’s important to understand what’s written in your record since most companies and landlords conduct background checks nowadays. And when they find an applicant with previous legal trouble, their decision may lean toward rejecting the application.
And since people on probation don’t go to prison, they might be confused about what gets written on their records after the probationary period is over. So that’s what we’ll discuss in this article.
Yes, more often than not, probation shows on your record. But there are also cases where it doesn’t. For example, since minors don’t carry their criminal records into adulthood, getting sentenced to probation as a minor won’t affect your clean record as an adult.
Does Probation Show Up on My Criminal Record?
Your criminal record is designed to give law enforcement agencies a quick summary of all your contacts with the law. This includes all your arrests, dropped or dismissed charges, and specifics about sentencing. And since probation is a sentence, it can appear on your record during background checks.
However, unlike incarceration, probation has a little more wiggle room when it comes to sentencing, and not all probation cases appear on a criminal record.
When you think of the classic idea of probation, you’re probably thinking about supervised probation. It’s when your probation terms include regular meetings with a probation officer, as well as some requirements you have to follow throughout your probationary period.
The most common requirements are occasional drug and alcohol testing, a curfew, proof of steady employment, expecting announced or unannounced home visits, and not meeting with other convicted criminals.
So if this sounds like your experience with probation, you can expect anyone conducting a background check on you to find it on your record.
Unsupervised probation is a much more lenient sentence than supervised probation. It’s usually given to people who commit less serious crimes or are first-time offenders. And instead of assigning a probation officer to follow, investigate, and meet with you regularly, people on unsupervised probation are expected to be responsible and follow the terms of the probation on their own.
However, people with minor drug offenses may still be required to do periodic drug tests to prove their compliance, even if they’re on unsupervised probation.
This kind of probation also doesn’t show on background checks, so it shouldn’t hinder your career opportunities, housing, or else.
Probation for Minors
In most cases, people under 18 who commit crimes don’t get a criminal record. Instead, their crimes get written in a youth record.
And while probation is the most common sentence given to juveniles, with almost 240,000 minors on probation in 2019, once they turn 18, their juvenile record is considered a thing of the past.
However, in the rare cases where a minor receives adult convictions and sentencing, their criminal record will still display that after they turn 18.
Is Probation Considered a Conviction?
While probation itself isn’t a conviction, it’s a sentence given after getting convicted. This means that people on probation are considered convicted offenders that didn’t serve time in prison for their crimes.
Note that criminal convictions can negatively affect your life in many ways. For starters, stable employment may become more difficult to find, which creates financial troubles for many previous convicts.
In addition, housing isn’t as easy to arrange, you’ll have worse odds in child custody cases, and adopting children won’t be easy.
Misdemeanor vs. Felony Probation
Not only will your criminal record contain details about your probation, but it also carries information about your conviction. And depending on the severity of your crime, you get sentenced to a misdemeanor or felony probation.
Misdemeanor probation on your record shows that your crime wasn’t severe. Therefore, employers tend to feel more comfortable hiring people on misdemeanor probation.
On the other hand, felony probation is given to those with more severe offenses like violent crimes and people with a prior criminal record, so it tends to make employers more hesitant.
Do I Have to Tell Employers About My Probation During Interviews?
If the company you want to work for doesn’t conduct background checks on their applicants, you might wonder if you must disclose your criminal history to them during the interview.
In some states, the law obliges you to tell employers about your probation during interviews. And while you can hide that information in other states, it’s always better to be honest and forthcoming about your criminal history.
And if you were on active probation and tried to hide that from your employer, they’ll likely find out later since your probation officer could visit your place of work during routine checks.
Are Probation Violations Misdemeanors or Felonies?
Most probation officers don’t aim to make the lives of people on probation harder. So when someone accidentally violates a term of their probation, things can blow over smoothly with a simple warning.
However, if a probation term is violated on purpose, the probation officer will likely report it to the court, and you’ll face repercussions.
Nevertheless, a probation violation is neither a misdemeanor nor a felony since probation terms don’t have to be crimes. They’re usually conditions like forbidding you to leave the state or hang out with certain people. Most probation violations lead to more terms of probation or extending the probationary period.
Will the Probation Violation Show Up on My Record?
The only way violating your probation shows up on your record is if you do it by committing another crime. In this case, your probation will be revoked, and you’ll likely be sentenced to prison for the original crime, plus added prison time for your new offense.
Will Probation Appear on My Background Checks Forever?
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) sets expiration dates on items that appear on your background check to protect your privacy and ensure your past mistakes don’t haunt you forever. For instance, seven years for civil judgments and ten years for bankruptcies.
However, while things like probation and community service seem like less severe punishments than incarceration, they still fall under sentencing in your criminal record.
And unfortunately, the FCRA doesn’t apply to criminal records, meaning that unless you do something about it, law enforcement agencies and anyone conducting a background check will always have access to your criminal record.
How to Clear Your Criminal Record
It’s no doubt that people with charges and convictions find it more challenging to do simple things like getting a job, landing an apartment, or getting into school and college.
However, having a criminal record isn’t the end. You can do two things to clear your record so it doesn’t appear on background checks.
Seal Your Record
If you only care about your record looking better during background checks and don’t want to go through a lot of paperwork, sealing your record is the option for you.
However, sealing only works on certain criminal offenses. For instance, you won’t be able to seal some firearm offenses like selling unlicensed weapons and ammunition, as well as some crimes against the public like aiding an escape from jail or court witness intimidation.
On the other hand, when it comes to less severe offenses and sentences such as probation, you can easily seal your record in most cases. The procedures change depending on the state, so check with a local attorney.
Expunge Your Record
Sealing means that your arrests and convictions are hidden from the public, but law enforcement, courts, and the FBI will still have access to your sealed crimes.
However, expungement means you’ll be completely erasing your criminal record. It won’t show up during background checks, and no law enforcement agency will have access to it. It’s essentially as if your crimes never happened.
And while this sounds too good to be true, you should know that in most states, you can only do this once in your life. So before taking this step, you should consider if your current crimes are worth burning this bridge forever.
Regarding probation on your record, it’s a bit overkill to erase it through expungement. But the option is there if you need it.
Can I Get My Record Expunged When I’m Still on Probation?
Any attempt to get your record expunged while on active probation will instantly be declined. So what should you do in this case? For starters, you can file a petition to the court and ask for early termination of your probation.
And while judges generally don’t like to end probation early, following the probation terms and not giving your probation officer a hard time increases your chances with any judge.
And if you manage to convince the judge to end your probation early, you can start looking into expungement.
When Can I Apply for Expungement?
After completing your sentence, whether that’s incarceration or probation, you’ll have to wait a few years before you can expunge your record. In most states, the waiting period is five years. However, there are a few states where you only have to wait three years.
Can My Expungement Request Be Denied?
While anyone can file an expungement request with the court, the judge isn’t required to grant that request if they don’t see fit. You can expect your request to be denied in the following cases:
- You haven’t paid your court-ordered fines or retributions: Before you apply for expungement, make sure you have no debt to the court.
- Your petition was improperly filed: You can be denied expungement if you write incorrect information or miss sections of the form.
- Violating your probation: If you’ve previously violated a term that led to your discharge from probation, the judge can choose to reject your expungement request.
- Objections: If you were on probation and applied for expungement, your probation officer or the prosecution can object to your expungement petition.
- Your crimes can’t be expunged. Expungement erases many records, but the more serious ones are often inexpugnable.
How Long Does It Take to Expunge My Record?
If you’ve filed a petition to expunge your record, there’s no doubt you’re counting the days until your request goes through and you hear the good news. Unfortunately, though, getting your expungement approved isn’t a quick process.
Depending on the state you live in and the circumstances of your current record, the process can take as little as a few weeks and up to six months.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does My Record State if I’m Still on Probation?
Yes. Since almost all background checks look at an applicant’s criminal history, an employer or landlord can easily determine if your probation is active since it’s displayed on your record.
Does My Probation Record Carry Over to Other States?
Yes, but many background check services only show criminal records in the surrounding counties. So you could conceal your probation record by moving to another state or far away county since many companies rely on these services.
While probation isn’t a conviction, it’s a sentence to a conviction, so it often goes on your criminal record. Nevertheless, if you got probation as a minor or were sentenced to unsupervised probation, those won’t go on your record.
And if probation on your record isn’t something you want, you can seal or expunge your record. However, sealing only hides your crimes. And while expungement takes longer and your petition can be denied for various reasons, it completely erases your record once granted.