The Basics of Record Sealing and Expungement

A criminal record can impact your career prospects, housing options, and legal rights. In some cases, people with past convictions can have their records sealed or expunged, which makes the records inaccessible to those conducting background checks. If you’re trying to clear your record, you should understand the difference between sealing and expungement, who is eligible, and why and how criminal records are sealed.


What Is Record Sealing?

When a criminal record is sealed, it becomes inaccessible to most of the public. Your conviction will not show up on most background checks for employment or housing, and you can usually select “no” on applications that ask if you have an arrest record. Certain positions, such as school or elderly care jobs, may require background checks that access sealed records. However, your record becomes invisible to most entities, which removes a lot of barriers on your journey to improving your life.


What Is Record Expungement?

Sealed records are inaccessible, but they still exist. Expunged records, on the other hand, are completely destroyed and removed from every system. The record can never be re-opened or examined by a court, so it is as if the offense never occurred. All states have different laws on what types of offenses can and cannot be expunged. Because expungement is permanent, it can be more difficult to get a record expunged than to get it sealed. 


Why Do Records Get Sealed?

You might decide to pursue record sealing or expungement if it’s been many years since your offense, you have a low likelihood of re-offending, and your record has been a barrier to your success in life. To seal or expunge your record, you must file a petition with the court. The exact process varies from state to state, but most states require you to file paperwork and attend a court hearing. In some states, you may have to pay a fee to apply for record sealing or expungement.


Who Is Eligible for Record Sealing or Expungement?

Eligibility for record sealing and expungement varies by state. In most cases, violent crimes cannot be expunged. However, your state may offer more flexibility with sealing records for certain misdemeanors or felonies. The decision to seal or expunge your record is ultimately up to the judge. If you only have one offense on your record, the judge will be more likely to approve your petition. Similarly, if your offense occurred many years ago, you may have a better chance. Legal support can be very helpful when trying to seal or expunge your record because your lawyer will help you present a strong case to the judge.

Sealing a record removes it from public view, and expunging it destroys it entirely. Both of these options have a number of benefits, especially for people who are pursuing careers where their criminal records may get in the way. If you’re considering pursuing record sealing or expungement, consult with a lawyer on the next steps you should take. Everyone makes mistakes, don’t let yours hold you back from where you want to be.