Criminal records can be accessed by far more people than you might realize. You also might not realize that a criminal charge goes on your record even if you were found not guilty or the charges were later dropped. Having marks on your record can hinder opportunities like employment, financial aid, housing rentals and more.
Your record does not have to haunt you forever though. Sealing or expungement may help you pursue the future you want, free from past charges.
How does record sealing or expungement help me?
When a record is sealed, it is “locked” from most of the public so that it cannot be viewed. You still technically retain a charge on your record but an employer, for example, would not see this when doing a background check.
Some people can still legally access a sealed record though. Your record may be visible if you are buying a firearm, seeking employment in law enforcement or seeking to work with children or the elderly.
Expungement, on the other hand, erases the charge completely as if it never happened. However, expungement can be more difficult to obtain.
In both cases, you would legally be allowed to answer “no” if someone asked whether you have been accused of a crime. This can help you move on and seek opportunities that a criminal record might otherwise prevent.
Who is eligible?
To determine eligibility, court will have to examine your record. The severity of the charged crime and any past charges can affect this. Crimes like assault, stalking, arson or murder usually cannot be sealed or expunged.
There may also be a period of time you must wait. If your record cannot initially be expunged but it can be sealed, you may be eligible for expungement after 10 years.
How do I seek sealing or expungement?
Applications are available at courthouses to apply for a Certificate of Eligibility. If this is granted, you will have to petition court to have your record sealed or expunged. The process may become confusing or stressful though. A skilled criminal defense attorney can help you move through the process with the best chances of success, as well as give advice on whether you are likely to be eligible or not.