I applied for US Military Engineering Internships in California. I talked to a recruiter and he said there will be a background check.

I am now in a college. When I was 14, I made a stupid mistake. I was arrested for shoplifting. I think I did some community service and the case is now sealed.

When submitting my background application, if it says "have you ever been convicted or arrested?", should I say yes or no?

  • 3
    It probably depends on the type of "background check". For instance, if you will be applying for a security clearance, the standard Form SF-86 makes it quite clear that you must report cases that are sealed. Mar 7, 2018 at 23:24

2 Answers 2


One answer is that you should say "yes", because it is a federal felony (5 years prison term) to say "no", because it is untrue, and you know it is untrue. This assumes that the question simply asks "Have you ever been convicted or arrested; please explain", with no qualifiers like "as an adult".

If you are absolutely positive that the record was sealed, an alternative answer is "no", based on a law like RCW 13.50.260(6)(a), which say you can legally "act as if it didn't happen":

If the court enters a written order sealing the juvenile court record pursuant to this section, it shall, subject to RCW 13.50.050(13), order sealed the official juvenile court record, the social file, and other records relating to the case as are named in the order. Thereafter, the proceedings in the case shall be treated as if they never occurred, and the subject of the records may reply accordingly to any inquiry about the events, records of which are sealed.

California has a similar law. The problem here is that this is state law, so a valid defense for a state charge of lying, but you need to comply with federal law, and states cannot tell the FBI what to do. It is variously rumoured that the FBI does not report sealed records, but it is unwise to count on rumours, and even if it is general discretionary policy for them to delete information about sealed records when reported from the state, it is not guaranteed that the policy is absolutely always followed. You can request an Identity History Summary Check from the FBI.

So the safest path is to get an informed opinion, tailored to your facts, from your attorney.


Retired military cryptographic maintenance technician here.

When preparing my paperwork, it asked if I had ever been arrested, prosecuted, whatever, and the instructions expressly said that this includes all incidents of this type, even if there were no charges, charges were dropped, case were dismissed, records expunged, etc.

  • What instructions have said in the past doesn't answer the question if (as the OP suggests) the present instructions do not specify that. Furthermore, I have observed that instructions vary depending on the level of security clearance being sought.
    – feetwet
    May 31, 2022 at 15:34
  • But the instructions do specify. They say "ever" and they do not instruct the reader to leave out any incident.
    – EvilSnack
    May 31, 2022 at 17:04

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .