Criminal Law

Does Community Service or Probation Go on Your Permanent Record?

By Janet Portman, Attorney
Does this kind of sentence stick with you?

Your criminal record consists of arrests, convictions, and the specifics of any sentence. Probation is a type of sentence; instead of going to jail (or sometimes after a short jail sentence), the defendant remains out of custody but must conform to certain terms and conditions (such as maintaining contact with the probation office, attending counseling, remaining drug-free, paying restitution, and maintaining employment or student status). A common term of probation is community service, which involves working with local government or charities to help them accomplish their mission. For example, a popular form of community service might be to assist a meal preparation service that delivers food to needy recipients. The court file would include this term of your probation, and your criminal record would note that you received probation for the underlying conviction.

Criminal records are permanent in the sense that they remain available to law enforcement and prosecutors, even long after the dates of conviction. Defendants who are eligible for sealing or expunging the underlying conviction can apply for that remedy, and if it’s granted, the record will be off-limits for most other purposes. For example, you will be able to answer “No” when asked by a landlord whether you have a conviction, but if you want to work in law enforcement or with children or vulnerable adults, that conviction will be considered. In sum, depending on the specifics of your conviction and your state’s sealing procedures, you may be able to shield the fact of your probation and its terms from many inquiries.

Go to the Sentencing, Parole, and Probation FAQ.

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