Minor Mistake, Major Consequences: How Long Misdemeanors Stay on Your Record

We all make mistakes. Perhaps you got into a heated argument that turned physical. Or drove after having one too many drinks. Or pocketed an item you didn’t pay for. While regrettable, these missteps seemed minor at the moment. But if convicted of a misdemeanor crime, the consequences can haunt you for years to come.

In Missouri, a misdemeanor conviction becomes part of your permanent criminal record. Background checks will reveal it to employers, landlords, licensing boards, and others. That impulsive action could cost you a dream job, apartment, or professional license years later.

At Rose Legal Services, we’ve seen countless examples of how a misdemeanor record significantly disrupts and even derails people’s lives. The impact is very real. But with the right legal guidance, there are ways to minimize and manage the fallout. This article provides an overview of how long misdemeanors stay on your record in Missouri and the steps you can take to protect your future.

What Makes Up a Criminal Record?

When people ask, “How long does a misdemeanor stay on your record?” they may not fully grasp what a record really means in the criminal context. It’s not just a single document tucked away in a filing cabinet somewhere.

When someone asks about their “record,” usually they mean their “RAP Sheet.” “RAP” stands for “Record of Arrests and Prosecutions.” A person’s RAP sheet is maintained by the Missouri State Highway Patrol Central Repository, which shares the information with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Law enforcement often accesses a person’s RAP Sheet when conducting a traffic stop, arrest, or investigation.

A RAP Sheet will often include the following:

  • Arrest records
  • Charges filed
  • The judgment or other disposition of each case
  • Convictions and sentences
  • Probation details
  • Warrants
  • Records of incarceration

This information is maintained by law enforcement agencies. However, it becomes available to the public through background checks by potential employers, landlords, and other entities.

Furthermore, a “criminal record” can include much more than a RAP Sheet. Many court records are now available online, and law enforcement agencies, jails, and prisons maintain their own records. Depending on the nature of the record and applicable law, many of these records can be accessed by the public – without your consent. Almost all records can be accessed with your consent, which may be required by potential employers, landlords, state licensing agencies, and other entities.

How Long Do Misdemeanors Stay on Your Record in Missouri?

The short answer is that misdemeanor convictions stay on your record permanently unless expunged. There is no automatic drop-off after a certain number of years, like with some other states. The crime will continue to appear on background checks indefinitely.

There are only very limited exceptions, such as an arrest or prosecution that did not result in a conviction will be removed from your public RAP Sheet, as will certain marijuana-related convictions under Missouri’s Amendment 3. But even those events will not be removed from the RAP Sheet that is available to law enforcement and prosecutors, nor will it be removed from criminal records that are not part of a RAP Sheet.

Most criminal records essentially live on forever, able to be discovered by those wanting to uncover your history and use it against you—unless you obtain an expungement. That’s why having any conviction on your record—even a misdemeanor—can haunt you indefinitely.

Why Do Misdemeanor Records Matter?

You may think having a minor misdemeanor on your criminal record from years ago is no big deal. However, even a misdemeanor record can close doors and create major obstacles in your life.

Common consequences include:

  • Struggling to find employment, especially for jobs requiring background checks
  • Difficulty renting an apartment if landlords screen for criminal records
  • Potentially losing or being denied professional licenses needed for certain careers
  • Restrictions on international travel to certain countries
  • Decreased eligibility for student loans and government assistance

Simply put, a misdemeanor conviction makes important things like jobs, housing, education, and finances much harder to obtain. The stain lasts for life.

Is Expungement an Option for Misdemeanors in Missouri?

Fortunately, Missouri does allow for expungement of misdemeanors in certain circumstances. Expungement is the process of sealing your criminal record from public view, requiring certain records to be destroyed, and allowing you to legally answer “no” to an inquiry about whether you have ever been convicted of a crime if your answer is otherwise accurate.

For most misdemeanors that are eligible for expungement, you must wait at least one year after the sentence ends to apply for expungement. For first-offense misdemeanor DWIs, the waiting period for an expungement is 10 years. Violent crimes and sex offenses generally cannot be expunged. Government agencies like law enforcement can still access expunged records, and it’s not automatic – you must petition the court and go through a legal process.

Even then, criminal records are preserved in the criminal justice system databases. Even if expunged or sealed, the original files continue to exist in archives and back-end systems. However, expungement does remove your conviction from background checks the public sees. It offers a chance at a clean slate.

Expungement Has Its Limits

While expungement can be a valuable remedy for certain misdemeanor convictions, it’s important to understand it has distinct limits in terms of what gets erased. An expungement order only concerns specific records held by specific courts and agencies.

It does not magically wipe away all traces of your criminal past from public view.

For example, expungement does not remove records held by:

  • The media – News stories published about your case still exist online and in archives.
  • Social media sites – Any posts or references to your case on platforms like Facebook remain.
  • Websites and databases outside the court’s jurisdiction – Mugshot sites, offender registries in other states, etc.
  • Commercial background check companies – Private databases still collect and report records.

Essentially, expungement seals your record from the public court and law enforcement files.

Don’t Let a Minor Misstep Haunt Your Future

Even after expungement, your misdemeanor may still appear on third-party background reports that employers, landlords, and others rely on. At Rose Legal Services, our attorneys take the extra step of contacting private databases to notify them of your expungement order. Most third parties will delete the record from their system when we notify them of the expungement order.

After successful expungement in Missouri, you can also legally answer “no” if asked about previous convictions on job, housing, or school applications. If your expunged misdemeanor shows up on a background check down the road, provide a copy of the court’s expungement order. In most cases, the landlord, employer, or school will honor the intent behind it.

But, maximizing expungement’s effectiveness takes experience. Contact our expungement lawyers today to discuss your misdemeanor record and develop a customized plan to reclaim your reputation. Our team is here to help.

Author Bio

Scott Rose, an experienced criminal defense lawyer and founder of Rose Legal Services, has been practicing law for over 20 years. He is dedicated to representing clients facing criminal charges and providing legal representation on various cases, including DWI, misdemeanor, and felony cases.

After graduating from the University of Virginia School of Law, he gained valuable experience working for a United States Senator and as a Judicial Law Clerk for the Chief Judge of a United States District Court. Throughout his legal career, W. Scott Rose has committed to providing high-quality legal representation to his clients, earning him a spot in the National Top 100 Trial Lawyers.

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