Criminal Defense of Immigrants


§ 3.34 IV. Obtaining Criminal Records

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Information concerning the client’s exact criminal situation may be complex or highly technical, and the client’s memory may not be complete and accurate, especially if a span of years or extensive use of alcohol or drugs is involved.  Therefore, it is important to verify the details of the plea, conviction, and sentence by consulting official sources of information.


                This involves three primary efforts: (a) obtaining the official criminal history reports of the client’s arrests and convictions (the “rap sheets”); (b) obtaining certified copies of the plea and conviction records from the rendering courts; and (c) interviewing key participants, in addition to the client, who may have information of use in challenging the conviction.


                Because FBI information is often in error or incomplete, especially regarding the final result or disposition of a state arrest, it is wise to obtain a state “rap sheet” for every state in which the client may have one or more convictions.  This can be used as a guide to the complete list of convictions that may trigger adverse immigration consequences.  If the client may have convictions of traffic offenses, it is wise to obtain the DMV criminal history record as well, since the FBI and state Department of Justice criminal records may omit minor traffic convictions.  These convictions may nonetheless be misdemeanors which can potentially bar the client from receiving relief under the amnesty program,[115] Family Unity,[116] or Temporary Protected Status (TPS).[117]

                An excellent self‑help manual with forms, addresses, and instructions concerning how to obtain federal, California, and local criminal records and how to correct any errors they contain is Warren Siegel’s How to Seal Your Juvenile and Criminal Records in California (7th ed. Sept. 2000), available from Nolo Press, 950 Parker Street, Berkeley, CA 94710.[118]


[115] See § 24.9-24.11, infra.

[116] See § 24.8, infra.

[117] See § 24.25, infra.

[118] Make sure to obtain the most current edition.




L. Friedman Ramirez, Federal Law Issues in Obtaining Evidence Abroad, in L. FRIEDMAN RAMIREZ, ED., CULTURAL ISSUES IN CRIMINAL DEFENSE 273 (2d ed. 2007).