County of Marin - News Releases - Online Digital Fingerprinting

For Immediate Release
August 31, 2015

Online Tools Help Clear Criminal Records

Public Defender tells how one brush with the law can lead to stigma

San Rafael, CA – The Marin County Public Defender is encouraging people to review their personal criminal records, commonly known as “rap sheets,” to ensure accuracy and to promote a message that a person deserves the right to enjoy a productive and positive life once criminal court involvement is behind them.

Marin County Public Defender Jose Varela“In more innocent times, young people were given more leeway to make mistakes,” said Public Defender Jose Varela. “Sadly, that mistake zone no longer exists. Once arrested and booked, young people begin the trail of a criminal history that is often difficult to overcome.”

Through the California Department of Justice and the office of the state Attorney General, California residents can order an online digital fingerprint. One section of the Attorney General’s website allows for the ordering a copy of one’s personal criminal history to ensure accuracy and to protect against inaccurate information an employer may see when screening job candidates.

Access to criminal history records usually is restricted to legitimate law enforcement purposes and authorized applicant agencies, but individuals have the right to request a copy of their own criminal history record to review accuracy.

Some governmental and private organizations, including employers, are permitted to conduct criminal background checks to determine the suitability of a person applying for a license, employment, or a volunteer position working with children, the elderly or the disabled. Law enforcement agencies, public and private schools, nonprofits and in-home supportive care agencies are some of the organizations authorized to conduct the online background checks.

The state provides the opportunity to review and correct a personal criminal record for a $25 processing fee, but even the correction might not eliminate the underlying arrest and the reason for the arrest, Varela said.

“There are many who say such lifetime stigma is what a person deserves,” he said. “Others are shocked that such digital fingerprint information cannot be permanently removed.”

Varela, along with the Marin County Probation Department and Marin County Superior Court, encourages youths who have a juvenile criminal history to inquire about sealing their records and encourages adults to explore the clearing of one’s criminal record through the expungement process.

Expungement is a legal procedure that allows eligible individuals to have any and all records relating to their criminal charges removed, both from public records and those of law enforcement agencies. It is granted by a judge in the original court in which the charge was heard.

Many people have successfully completed the expungement process through his office.  One personal story of expungement is featured in a short video on the Public Defender website.

A digital fingerprint – the computerized information that government agencies have on a person – can be initiated when a teen applies for a driver’s license. When a person is arrested and booked, even for a minor crime, cyber evidence gets added to that digital fingerprint information data base. 

Varela said a discussion about digital fingerprint is particularly timely in the late summer.

“It’s especially important as students prepare for college and adult work realities,” he said. “College pranks, underage drinking, petty thefts and drug use all can result in a digital fingerprint that may take you years to wipe clean.”

Learn more at


Jose Varela
Public Defender
County of Marin

Marin County Civic Center
3501 Civic Center Drive
Suite 139
San Rafael, CA 94903
(415) 473-6321
Email: Jose Varela
Public Defender website