Criminal Law

What's the Difference Between Expunged vs. Sealed Records?

Key Takeaways:

  • Expunging criminal records destroys the records, and sealing records hides them from public view.
  • Sealing or expunging your criminal record will keep it out of public background checks from employers and landlords.
  • Some government agencies and law enforcement will still be able to access your sealed records.

A criminal record can show up in employment background checks. Even if your crime was something in your past, it can still come back to haunt you. Even a minor misdemeanor conviction can result in a criminal record. However, there are ways to have your records sealed or expunged and get a fresh start.

Whether you can seal or expunge a criminal record depends on state law. Some states will seal records and other states offer expungement. Generally, only certain types of crimes are eligible for expungement.

If you want to have your arrest record sealed, talk to a local criminal defense attorney about the expungement process in your state. For more about sealing records, talk to an experienced criminal expungement lawyer for legal advice.

What Is Expungement?

The process of clearing an arrest or conviction from a person’s criminal record is expungement. This can be a great option for many people with a criminal history. Unfortunately, it isn’t available for all arrests and convictions. Whether expungement is available mainly depends on the jurisdiction where the arrest or criminal conviction occurred.

If your state allows for expungement, the next step is to determine if the particular criminal offense is eligible for expungement. For example, a state may require a waiting period after serving the sentence before a crime becomes eligible for expungement. State laws may only allow certain convictions to be expunged.

There are also limits to expungement. Generally, expunged records won’t show up in public records. If an employer or landlord does a background check of public records, the expunged criminal case will not show up. However, some government and law enforcement agencies will still have access to expunged criminal charges.

What Is Sealing of Criminal Records?

Sealing criminal records blocks access and hides them from the general public and most background checks. However, the police department may still be able to see your prior criminal charges in a police background check.

Criminal justice agencies and state attorneys may also be able to use your sealed records if you are charged with a repeat offense.

For example, if you have a drunk driving conviction and have your records sealed, your DUI won’t show up in a background check. However, if you get another DUI, the prosecutor may use the prior offense to charge you for a second DUI, which may have increased penalties.

Sealing Juvenile Records

Some of the most common types of sealed criminal records include juvenile offenses. Almost half of states automatically seal juvenile records. For example, in Arkansas, the court will seal most juvenile records on someone’s 21st birthday.

In other states, a juvenile offender will have to file a petition to have their juvenile records sealed. Sealing juvenile delinquency records can be simpler than expunging adult criminal records. However, there may be exceptions like for trying a juvenile as an adult. Juvenile sex offenses may also be exempt from sealing as well.

A State Example of Expunged and Sealed Records

State laws on sealing records or expunging differ. In Massachusetts, for example, only certain records can be expunged or destroyed. This includes juvenile cases dismissed for lack of evidence and for someone charged under the assumed name of an innocent person. However, any person with a criminal record can request to have their record sealed.

For most misdemeanors, you have to wait five years after conviction or incarceration, whichever is longer. For most felony convictions, you have to wait 10 years before you can petition to seal your records.

The effects of sealing your criminal record in Massachusetts means that if a job application asks about a criminal conviction, you can respond that you have no record.

Some states call expungement and sealing records the same thing. However, other states have different processes for sealing or expunging such records. The above is just one example. Your lawyer will give you more information about the expungement process in your state.

Can a Criminal Defense Lawyer Help With Expungement or Sealing Records?

A criminal record can make it harder to get a job, even after you served your time. Sealing your records or expunging them can help with background checks and give you a fresh start. If you have questions about sealing your criminal records, talk to a criminal defense lawyer about your legal options.

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