A common misconception about expunged convictions is that they are not publicly accessible in any fashion. In fact, the opposite is true. While having a conviction expunged may make it more difficult for others to find, records of that conviction still exist and are accessible to anyone willing to pay a small fee.
Wisconsin Criminal Record Databases
In Wisconsin, there are two main databases where criminal records are kept:
The most popular and easily accessible is the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access website (commonly referred to as CCAP). Individuals can use this electronic database free-of-charge to search for details pertaining to almost any court case in Wisconsin. If a court expunges a criminal conviction, it will be removed from the courts records and also from CCAP. The Wisconsin Department of Justice maintains a second database: the centralized criminal history (CCH) database. This database keeps records pertaining to the following:
- Criminal arrests
If you are arrested, but later are successful in having all the charges against you dropped, you can have your arrest records removed from this database. But convictions that are later expunged are not removed from the CCH database. Because adult criminal records in Wisconsin are considered public record, for a small fee anyone may access the information in the CCH database, including companies that perform online background checks on potential employees.
Expungement is not an Eraser
While having a conviction expunged certainly has a number of benefits, it does not erase the conviction permanently from your record. For this reason, expunction is no substitute for a prepared and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney who can help you understand the consequences of a criminal conviction and prevent one from occurring in the first place. For more information on expungements, see our previous blog on the differences between sealed and expunged records.