If Criminal Charges Are Dropped Against Someone, Are They Still on Record?

During our research into the best background check services, we ran into folks who found information about themselves that they believed would be private. These understandably upset people filed complaints against the background check services that furnished the report.

As it turns out, their anger was misplaced. Let’s talk about why.

If I’m arrested for a crime and the charges are later dropped, will those charges still show up in a background check?


In the US, arrests and charges are public records. So, even if your charges are later dropped or dismissed, charges and arrests may still turn up on background checks.1

The good news: most employment background check services are looking only for convictions. In some states, it’s even illegal for employers to consider arrests without convictions when screening job applicants.2

The bad news: having criminal charges, even dropped ones, can affect you in other ways. It could prevent you from crossing the US border or make it difficult to rent an apartment.

What’s the difference between dismissed and dropped charges?

When the prosecution team withdraws the charges, they become dropped charges. Usually, withdrawal occurs because the prosecutor feels there’s not enough evidence to take the case to court. A dismissal is essentially the opposite of that; charges are dismissed when the defense argues that the prosecution hasn’t presented enough evidence for a conviction. If the judge agrees, the trial is over.3

Dismissal due to error

There’s one other reason for dismissed charges. If the prosecution bungles the case through a serious procedural error, the judge might issue a dismissal.

What can I do if I have dropped or dismissed charges?

You can have your records expunged or sealed. Expungement usually means the complete destruction of all information. Sealing means that the records become inaccessible to the public (and sometimes even law enforcement).4

How do I expunge or seal my records?

First, get a lawyer. When you enter legal territory, you want a trained professional at your disposal.5 Your lawyer will help you fill out and file an application for expungement or sealing. There might be a hearing, and after a judge reviews your case, you may be granted an expungement or sealing if you’re eligible.6

Criminal records of minors
Take Note

According to Eligibility.com, the records of minors whose charges were dropped or dismissed are often sealed automatically. This allows children and teens to make a fresh start as they mature and enter the adult world.

In some states, you’re allowed a single expungement in your entire lifetime, so use it wisely (and stay out of trouble afterward).7

But all in all, if your dropped or dismissed charges appear in a background check, don’t blame the background check company. It’s your responsibility to remove the information from public records. The background check company isn’t responsible for (or capable of) doing that.

Always seek the assistance of a lawyer when dealing with criminal records.