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Expungement vs. Record Sealing: What’s the Difference?

A criminal record can have a negative imprint on one’s life, affecting his/her possibilities of finding the desired job, getting an education, seeking credit, making purchases or leases and so on. There are two ways of clearing a criminal record: sealing a criminal record and expungement of criminal records. Sealing and expungement of a criminal record are often mistaken for they both offer removal of a criminal record. However, there are significant factors that make these two differ.

Sealing a criminal case does not mean that the sealed records are totally erased, rather they exist in both legal and physical sense. A person can have his/her criminal records sealed so that no one may view his/her file without a court order. To the contrary, an expungement completely removes the criminal case from the public record. When an expungement is granted, a person is legally allowed not to disclose his/her criminal record or arrest. Both the expungement and record sealing are meant to increase the chances of a convicted person to move on without the burden of the past criminal records.

What Is Expungement?

As mentioned above, expungement is the process of totally erasing one’s criminal records, as if they never existed. Being granted with expungement means that your previous criminal records are not available for anyone and no one can access them even by a court order. It legally endows a convicted person with the right to deny the existence of criminal records.  For instance, if you apply for a job and are asked if you were ever convicted, you are legally allowed to answer ‘’no’’. In California, only misdemeanors can qualify for expungement. A person is eligible for expungement if he/she is currently charged with a criminal offense, is on the probation for a criminal offense or serves a sentence for a criminal offense.

The Bases of Record Sealing

Unlike an expungement, record sealing does not absolutely clear a criminal record. It just removes the record from the public view by restricting its access only to a certain group of people. For example, if one’s criminal records have been sealed, a potential employer or bank cannot have access to criminal history files. Similar to expungement, the sealing of criminal records gives a person the right to legally deny the fact of conviction. However, this does not mean that the files cease to exist anymore. If the court issues an order to unseal the records for some reason, a person’s criminal records may be reopened. Any agency, individual or institution can request the court to be authorized to access a person’s criminal records. Some states automatically seal certain types of criminal records, especially juvenile offenses, thus giving a  juvenile offender an opportunity to a fresh start.

What Should One Choose: Expungement or Record Sealing?

Taking into account the above-mentioned factors, it seems better for a person to have his/her criminal records expunged than simply sealed. Yet, the availability and eligibility of the two matters. For example, some states do not allow one’s records to be expunged at all. To the contrary, expungement is the only available option for convicted people to clear their records. So, the choice between the two record-clearing methods greatly depends on their availability in a particular state.

Besides, the nature of the crime determines whether one is allowed to have his/her criminal records sealed or expunged. For instance, certain criminal offenses, such as sexual misconduct with a child or kidnapping, are not to be expunged under any circumstances.  

To determine whether one qualifies for an expungement or record sealing, he/she needs to have a better understanding of the whole processes and relevant laws. An experienced attorney can help you weigh up your choices of getting expunged or sealing your criminal records. Once you have been eligible for one of these two options, the complicated process of petitioning the court begins. The skillful and professional attorneys at the Margarian Law firm will do their best to make sure you have your criminal records removed so that you can have a fresh start without letting your past conviction stand on the way of your success.

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