A criminal record can quickly become a nuisance that causes you to lose out on housing and job opportunities. If you’ve ever been arrested, even if you weren’t convicted of a crime, there is a public record that can be accessed by landlords and employers who do background checks on applicants.

Arrest and/or misdemeanor charge records are kept by the county where you were arrested, usually by the solicitor general’s office. Even if you aren’t convicted, the records remain public information.

Under previous Georgia law, misdemeanor convictions were not eligible for record restriction; in 2020, however, the state legislature passed SB 288, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 2021. The new law allows an individual to have two misdemeanor convictions restricted from their record. One conviction can contain multiple misdemeanors.

Here’s how you can go about getting your record restricted. 

How do I apply for record restriction?

Record restriction is extended to people who were arrested but not charged, and for those who pled guilty or received a guilty verdict on a misdemeanor charge.

If you were convicted of a misdemeanor, you must have completed the terms of your sentence before you can apply for record restriction.

You cannot have pending criminal charges or have been convicted of a crime in the four years prior to applying for record restriction.

If you were arrested but never charged with a crime, your record will automatically be restricted after two years for a misdemeanor, four years for most felonies, or seven years for serious violent or sex-related felonies.

How do I apply?

You have to email the prosecuting attorney’s office in the county where you were arrested or charged to receive an application. For a misdemeanor offense in the five major metro Atlanta counties, this is the solicitor general’s office.

If you were arrested by Georgia State Patrol for a misdemeanor, you will still apply in the county of your arrest.

The application can be submitted by mail or email. Here is the contact info for county solicitor’s offices in the metro area:

Email: solicitorinfo@dekalbcountyga.gov  

Address: Intake and Records Division, 556 North McDonough St., Decatur GA 30030

Email: restrictions.solicitor@fultoncountyga.gov
Address: 136 Pryor St. SW, Suite J301, Atlanta GA 30303

Email: DARR@gwinnettcounty.com 

Address: Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center, 75 Langley Drive, Lawrenceville, GA 30046

Phone: (770) 477-3380 

Address: Harold R. Banke Justice Center, 9151 Tara Blvd., Room 3SL01, Jonesboro, GA 30236

Email: Kaitlin.Huffman@cobbcounty.org 

Address: Circuit Defender’s Office, 10 East Park Square, Marietta, GA 30090

Is there a cost?

The prosecuting attorney’s office can charge a fee of up to $50.

The Georgia Crime Information Center, which houses all criminal records and handles record restrictions, also charges a $25 processing fee that is paid only after your application is approved by the prosecution attorney’s office.

The check can be made payable to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. 

Send payments to:

Georgia Crime Information Center Record Restrictions  

P.O. Box 370808, Decatur, GA 30037

Can all misdemeanor convictions be restricted? 

No, there are certain offenses that cannot be restricted from the record. All family violence misdemeanors are ineligible for restriction, including simple assault, simple battery, battery, and stalking. 

Other misdemeanors that cannot be restricted are; violating a family violence order, child molestation, enticing a child for indecent purposes, improper sexual contact, public indecency, keeping a place of prostitution, pimping, pandering, sexual battery, obstructing a 911 call, peeping tom, serious traffic violations, and any offense related to minors.

How long does the process typically take?

Once you have applied, the prosecuting attorney’s office has 90 days to approve or deny your request. 

If the request is approved, the prosecuting attorney’s office will submit the application to the GCIC database. It usually takes two to three weeks to complete the record restriction once they have received the completed application from the prosecuting attorney’s office. Once your records have been restricted, GCIC will send you a letter of completion in the mail.

To check your application status, call GCIC at (404) 244-2600.

If your request is denied, you have 30 days to file an appeal with the county’s superior court.

What’s the difference between getting your record restricted vs. getting it expunged?

Record restriction and expungement are the same thing. The state of Georgia changed the language in 2013 when a new law was passed that required GCIC to automatically restrict the records for a person who was acquitted on all charges.

When your record is restricted, it is no longer available to any individual or business that might be conducting a background check (i.e. employer or landlord). The record is still available, however, to law enforcement and judicial officers for criminal investigation or hiring purposes.

What if my charges were dismissed?

If the prosecuting attorney dismissed the charges, there is still a record of your arrest and any court appearances you made. These records can be restricted except for six reasons:

  1. You entered a plea agreement that resulted in your conviction on separate charges that arose out of the same offense.
  2. The judge barred the government from introducing material evidence.
  3. A material witness was unavailable or refused to testify.
  4. You were incarcerated on other criminal charges, so the government decided not to prosecute.
  5. The offense was part of a pattern of criminal activity.
  6. You had diplomatic immunity and the government was unable to bring charges.

Can anyone help me through the process? What resources are available?

If you live in Fulton County, reach out to the Record Restriction Unit, which offers expedited processing for applicants on a deadline from their employer. You can reach their office at (404) 612-4827.

In Cobb County, there’s the Second Chance Desk, which offers assistance on all record restrictions requests. You can reach their office at secondchancedesk@cobbcounty.org or (404) 834-8604. Side note: Appointments are highly recommended.

Madeline Thigpen is Capital B Atlanta's criminal justice reporter.