People often ask about whether they should try to seal their criminal record. Here we discuss 3  benefits of sealing your criminal record. But before I get into that, I want to talk a little bit about the difference between expunging a record and sealing a record. 

Difference Between Sealing and Expunging a Criminal Record

When you expunge a record, all trace of that record, including all police reports, court records, probation department records and any information in all state databases is erased and wiped out forever.  While it is better to expunge a criminal record than sealing one, it is also much more difficult to do.  It’s only done under very specific and limited circumstances. The vast majority of people will not qualify to have their criminal records expunged.

When you seal a criminal record, the records remain in all those places, but when people like employers or landlords and most others make inquiries, concerning whether or not you have a criminal record and what’s on it, they’re simply told that you have “No Record.”

An exception to this is that  the police and the Court’s still have access to your criminal record and documents associated with it, like police report, probation records, etc.  If you are charged a a new offense or are being investigated for a new crime, these records will be available to the police and the Courts.  Also, if you are applying for a license to carry a firearm, the police will continue to have access to the record when considering your application.  

Now, For The Three Benefits To Sealing Your Criminal Record

#1 – If your criminal record is sealed, you’re record will not disqualify you from State or local public jobs, housing, or obtaining a particular state granted professional license (i.e. medical, legal, etc.). For example, you’re sealed record will not preclude you from sitting for Civil Service Examination, etc.   In the applications for these things, there should be an advisory that if your crimimal record is sealed, you can answer the particular question as if you have no record. 

#2 – A criminal record that’s been sealed can’t be used against you in most court proceedings or board or commission hearings. . For instance if you are involved in a civil lawsuit or something like that or something before a board or commission, it’s not going to be used against you there. The very limited exceptions to this  are if you have a new criminal case or if you are involved in any proceeding that concerns the care and custody of a child.  These are discussed in more detail below. 

Relative to a new criminal case, the prosecutor and courts will be able to use your criminal record (even if sealed) to make decisions concerning, bail, conditions of release, sentencing, etc.  

Relative to a proceeding involving a care and custody of a child, your record may be used, but it is not automatic the way it is in a new criminal case.  This type of proceeding could include a divorce where child custody is at issue; or where there is a claim of child neglect or abuse for example.  In that type of case, If one party wants to use it, they have to bring to the court’s attention they think such a record exists. Then the judge looks at it in private to decide whether or not what’s on the record has any relevance to the care or custody of children. For instance, a minor charge, like minor in possession of alcohol when you are 17 is unlikely to be relevant to the divorce proceeding of a 40 year old.  Only if the judge decides it’s relevant, there will be a hearing to determine whether it can be used in that case. 

#3 –  One of the most important benefits to sealing you’re criminal record is that it’s much easier to do than expunging a record and does give you many of the same protections. So long as your offense is one that qualifies for sealing (most do) qualify and you’ve waited the required amount of time or have other good cause, most likely your record is going to be sealed.  But it’s up to you to make the request. 

So those are 3 benefits to sealing your criminal record. If you have any other questions please feel free to give me a call or shoot me an email. Thanks and have a great day!