What You Need to Know About Sealing a Criminal Record

A criminal record can pose significant challenges when attempting to move forward in life. Sealing your criminal record may help relieve some of these burdens. In this blog post, we will elucidate crucial aspects of sealing your criminal record to help you determine if it’s the right choice for you.

The Distinction Between Expungement and Record Sealing

There is an important difference between having your record expunged versus sealed. 

Expungement means having your criminal record destroyed or erased, ensuring that the arrest or criminal charge is treated as if it never occurred.

Record sealing keeps the arrest or charge in the court system and law enforcement databases, but hides it from public view. 

While both make your record inaccessible, key differences exist in the legal and physical status of the record.

Expungement and sealing of criminal records offer individuals a second chance at employment, benefiting the economy. Economists estimate that excluding these individuals from the workforce costs approximately $78 to $87 billion in lost gross domestic product annually.

The Potential Impact of Sealing Your Criminal Record

Nearly 9 in 10 employers, 4 in 5 landlords, and 3 in 5 colleges employ background checks to screen applicants’ criminal records. Sealing your record offers a meaningful second chance while still allowing access when necessary to ensure public safety. Consulting with a criminal defense attorney can also help you understand the intricacies of this complex process. As one Criminal Defense Attorney states, “sealing criminal records can be challenging to navigate, but overcoming past mistakes is important for moving forward.”

  • Individuals with sealed or expunged records have lower crime rates compared to the general public. One study found that people with sealed felony records had a rearrest rate of 4.6% compared to 7.5% for the general population.
  • You regain eligibility for many jobs that your record may have previously excluded you from. Most public and private employers are required to consider candidates equally, irrespective of sealed records. 
  • You also regain eligibility for professional licenses for careers such as real estate agent, teacher, banker etc. Most licensing agencies cannot deny you solely based on a sealed record.  
  • Applications for housing, volunteer positions, higher education, and loans typically cannot factor your sealed criminal record into decisions. 
  • Immigrants pursuing visas or citizenship may fulfill “good moral character” prerequisites if their arrest records are sealed.

Research shows sealed records open doors to opportunity that can be essential for reintegrating into society.

Who Can Still Access a Sealed Criminal Record 

While sealed, the following entities can still access your criminal record in certain limited circumstances:  

  • State licensing agencies have legal right to view sealed felony convictions when relevant to the licensed occupation or role. For example, teacher certification boards would have access when considering an applicant.  
  • Public agencies & private employers may inquire about certain sealed convictions when hiring for positions working with vulnerable populations including children, elderly, disabled etc.  
  • All law enforcement agencies still keep access to sealed records for investigative purposes to protect public safety. But, they cannot divulge the sealed information without a court order.
  • The FBI national criminal database still stores sealed arrest and conviction data accessible for firearms and other background checks requiring fingerprint verification. Firearm retailers are prohibited from selling to anyone with a sealed felony.   

While your past remains hidden from the general public, select organizations can still access it in accordance with specific state statutes that allow disclosure in situations related to public safety.

Eligibility Factors for Sealing Your Criminal Record

Every state has unique laws about record sealing eligibility. But, some common factors include:

  • The type of offense committed 
  • The outcome of your case
  • Your criminal history
  • The time elapsed since the incident   

For example, some states only allow sealing for dismissed charges or minor offenses. Longer waiting periods often apply to more serious convictions. 

Consult your state laws and legal counsel to understand your eligibility.

Navigating the Record Sealing Process

The process for sealing criminal records involves several key steps:

1. Research Your State Laws

The requirements can vary, so this is crucial prep work. An attorney familiar with the sealing process can tell you best. 

2. Assess Your Eligibility  

Once you know the laws, check if you meet the eligibility criteria. Be honest about your specific criminal history when making this assessment.

3. Complete Required Steps

This can involve petitioning the courts, filing specific forms, obtaining compliance letters, undergoing background checks, etc. Fulfill every requirement.

4. Appear at Court Hearings 

Most sealing proceedings require appearing before a judge who will decide on granting your petition. Dress appropriately and be fully prepared.

Sealing your records requires effort but can significantly improve your circumstances. Assess your commitment and follow through if you choose to pursue this option.

FAQs

What is the difference between expungement and record sealing?
Expungement erases any record that the arrest or charge occurred, while sealing keeps it accessible by select agencies under specific circumstances.

Who can access my sealed criminal records?
Licensing boards, some employers, law enforcement agencies and the FBI can still access sealed records in limited situations necessary for public safety reasons.  

Am I eligible for record sealing?
Eligibility differs by state and depends on the type and outcome of your offense, your criminal history, time elapsed since the incident and other factors. Consult local laws and legal counsel to assess your eligibility.

Sealing your criminal record removes barriers standing between you and your future goals. However, sealing involves commitment and effort. Use this blog as a starting point for understanding if it could benefit your circumstances. With the right preparation and persistence, you can move forward from past mistakes.