When applying for certain immigration benefits — such as an asylum work permit or DACA status — you may need to disclose whether you have a criminal history. Having a criminal history doesn’t automatically make you ineligible for the benefit you’re requesting. But you’ll have to provide a certified disposition telling the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) how the criminal matter was resolved. This article explains what a certified disposition is, why you might need one, and how to get one.
Written by Paige Hooper.
Written February 2, 2023
What Is a Certified Disposition?
A certified disposition, or a certificate of disposition, is an official court document that summarizes the final outcome of a court case. “Certified” means that a court officer has verified that the document is authentic. This usually requires a stamp or seal. A certified disposition isn’t a summary of your criminal history. It only addresses one case or incident.
You may be required to submit a certified disposition when you apply for a green card, programs such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), or other immigration benefits like advance parole.
What Is My Case Disposition?
“Disposition” refers to how the court disposed of the case or charges. A certificate of disposition also includes information about sentencing, if applicable. The following are examples of common dispositions in criminal cases:
Acquitted: You were found not guilty at trial.
Convicted: You entered a guilty plea or were found guilty at trial.
Vacated: The court withdrew (threw out) your guilty plea or conviction.
Dismissed: The charges against you were dropped; you were not prosecuted.
Pending: The charges against you are still being investigated or prosecuted.
Diversion (or Deferred): You agreed to do something (such as a treatment course) in exchange for the charges against you being dismissed. The case is still considered pending until the agreed actions are complete.
Suspended Sentence: The court has agreed to hold off on your sentence while you complete a probation period or treatment program. If you complete the program or probation successfully, the sentence will be reduced or the case may be dismissed. Until then, the case is still considered pending.
Why Do I Need a Certificate of Disposition?
If you have a criminal record, no matter how small, you must provide USCIS (or the relevant immigration authority) with a certificate of disposition. This helps USCIS investigate your moral character. Good moral character is a requirement for most immigration programs, including green cards, DACA, and other benefits such as advance parole. In part, good moral character means that you respect and obey the U.S. Constitution and other laws.
USCIS runs a background check on everyone who applies for immigration benefits. The background check reveals any criminal matters in your history but includes few details. The certificate of disposition contains additional information and provides a clearer picture of these matters as they relate to moral character.
For certain application types, USCIS may also conduct background checks on your family members and/or sponsoring relatives. But the agency usually only requests certified dispositions from you, the applicant.
USCIS may require a certified disposition for any arrest or offense, including incidents that:
Took place outside the United States
Occurred when you were a minor
Have otherwise been expunged from your record
How Do I Get a Certified Disposition?
A certified disposition can only be issued by the court where the case took place. Courts have different procedures and requirements for how to get a certified disposition. Some courts may require that you make your request in person, while others may honor requests made by mail, phone, or online. Some courts may require that you complete a specific disposition request form. The best way to find out what’s required for your case is to ask someone in the county clerk’s office.
Tips for Obtaining a Certified Disposition
In general, follow these tips to successfully obtain the certified disposition that you need:
Use the defendant’s name exactly as it appeared in the criminal case file, even if it has changed. (The defendant is the person who was arrested or charged with a crime.)
You may need the defendant’s date of birth, Social Security number, and/or the docket number or other court record number.
You’ll likely need to present a government-issued ID to access a certified disposition because they aren’t public records and may contain sensitive information.
You may have to pay an administrative or processing fee. Check with the court about what payment methods it accepts. In some courts, you may be able to request a fee waiver.
You may not be able to get your certified disposition on the same day you request it. Court processing times vary. Anywhere from 0 to 14 days is common.
If you owe an outstanding balance on any tickets, fines, or court costs, the court may require you to pay those before it issues your certified disposition.
If you have more than one case, you must request a certified disposition for each case.
If you’ve ever been arrested or charged with a crime, USCIS may require you to submit a certified disposition showing what happened in your criminal case. A certified disposition, sometimes called a certificate of disposition, is an official document from the court where your criminal case took place that says how your case was resolved. The request process varies, so contact the court clerk to find out what your court requires.