Whenever an individual has a conviction on their record, it may cause them many problems with obtaining employment, professional licensing, and the right to vote. Even when a criminal case does not result in a formal conviction, the records of arrest as well as the criminal prosecution may remain, which can cause similar issues.
In some situations, a conviction or a record of arrest may be sealed so that it is off limits to everyone but law enforcement personnel. In other situations, an individual’s record may be subject to an expungement, where their criminal file is completely removed from public records.
How Is Record Sealing Different from Expungement?
One of the main differences between record sealing and expungement is that, when the records are sealed, they will exist. This means the files and records related to the issue are still there, they simply cannot be accessed by employers or other individuals.
Typically, it is standard for an individual’s juvenile criminal files to be sealed once they reach 18 years of age. However, they may still be accessed in some cases via a court order.
Expungement, in comparison, results in an actual deletion or erasing of criminal charges and arrest files, as if they did not occur. There are certain types of charges that may be more difficult for an individual to have expunged than other types of charges.
For example, misdemeanor charges are typically more easily expunged than felony charges. The laws that govern criminal record sealing and expungement may vary by state.
In addition, eligibility for these procedures often depends on the type of crime that was involved.
What Is Sealing of a Criminal Record Sealing?
Expungement is a legal procedure that erases an individual’s criminal record. After an expungement, an individual’s criminal record is treated as though it no longer exists and their criminal file is removed from public record.
Every state in the United States allows for some type of expungement under different circumstances. It is important to note, however, that there is not a constitutional right to have a criminal record expunged.
Whether an individual is eligible to expunge their criminal record and how they may do so will depend on the laws of the state in which the records exist. When a criminal record is sealed, it becomes off-limits to anyone but law enforcement in the majority of states.
A sealed record may still be accessible to an individual outside of law enforcement if they are able to obtain a court order to view them.
What Is Expungement of a Criminal Record?
As discussed above, expungement results in the deletion of records of criminal arrests and convictions as though they never occurred. Having a criminal conviction on an individual’s record may cause them significant issues.
For example, they may have issues finding and keeping employment, obtaining professional licenses, and they may lose the right to vote unless they go through a complex procedure to have the right restored. Because of these issues, expungement may be beneficial to individuals with criminal records.
In the majority of states, expungement is available in certain, limited situations. It may be used for criminal charges that were dismissed.
This means that the individual who was charged never had a trial or plead guilty in a plea agreement. Expungement may also be available if the disposition of the criminal charge was, for some reason, deferred.
It is rare for expungement to be available for a criminal conviction. In addition, there are some charges that are more difficult to have expunged than others.
One example is how misdemeanor charges are usually easier to have expunged than felony charges. In addition, in certain states, such as California, expungements are allowed for misdemeanors and some felonies, as long as the individual meets the requirements.
Who Qualifies for Record Sealing or Expungement?
Eligibility for record sealing will vary by state. In the majority of state, an individual will have to meet certain requirements in order to have their criminal records expunged, which commonly includes:
- Time: A set period of time must have passed since the individual completed the terms of their punishment, whether imposed after a plea agreement or upon conviction after a trial;
- Sentence status: Whether the offender received probation, parole, or served the entirety of their jail or prison sentence;
- Violent crimes: Whether the offenses that are shown on the record involve a crime or crimes that were violent or nonviolent;
- No new charges: The individual is not facing any new charges when they seek expungement or sealing of their record; and
- Correct application: The application for record sealing is made in writing and submitted to the court in which the individual was convicted.
When an individual is filing for an expungement, they will typically file the request in the same court where the prosecution occurred. A petition for expungement will usually only be good for one charge.
If an individual wants to expunge multiple charges or records, they will usually have to file separate petitions. The court will review their petition and determine their eligibility.
It is important to note that some courts may have their own procedures for record sealing or expungement.
Additional Information About Record Sealing or Expungement
If an individual is sealing record sealing or expungement, it is important to note that:
- Many felonies are not eligible for expungement;
- Nearly every sex offense will not be eligible for record sealing;
- Expungement usually applies to juvenile offenses or misdemeanors; and
- In certain states, even though an individual’s records are sealed, the original sealed conviction may still be used to increase the severity of a future sentence.
As noted above, some courts may have their own procedures for record sealing and expungement. There are also additional items to be aware of regarding record sealing and expungement, including:
- Registration as a sex offender: If an individual is required to be registered as a sex offender as a result of a conviction, sealing or expunging their record does not put an end to this requirement;
- No sealing of records of sex offenses: Nearly every sexual offense is ineligible for record sealing; and
- Use as prior convictions: In some states, although records are sealed, the original sealed conviction may still be used later to increase the severity of punishment at future sentencing.
It is important to remember that sealing a criminal record does not mean that the records disappear from the view of law enforcement. As mentioned above, even a sealed juvenile criminal record may be used in a criminal proceeding later on in the offender’s life.
In general, once an individual’s conviction has been sealed or expunged, they are able to legally deny ever having been convicted of that crime. There may, however, be exceptions to this rule.
For example, certain jobs may require an individual to disclose any conviction they had, even if it was expunged if they are applying for a government job or a job involving children.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Record Sealing or Expungement?
If you have any issues, questions, or concerns regarding record sealing or expungement, it is essential to consult with an expungement lawyer. Your lawyer can advise you of the record sealing and expungement processes in your state as well as what rights you have.