Having a criminal record can negatively affect your life in many ways, even years down the line after it occurred. With background checks being the norm nowadays, a single criminal record of even the slightest misdemeanor can bar you from, say, a potential job opportunity, bring up immigration issues, and it can even give you trouble when trying to rent or lease a property.
Fortunately, depending on several factors, it is possible to have your records sealed.
The benefits of sealing your records are immense. Besides an untarnished reputation, you will no longer have the constant cloud of a criminal history looming over you.
What Is Record Sealing?
Record sealing means making the court records unavailable to the public. It is commonly mistaken for expungement. Having your criminal record expunged means completely erasing the records. The main difference between the two is that sealed records still exist, unlike when you have them expunged.
While sealing a record may provide some relief, it is only available under certain circumstances:
A Juvenile Record
It’s a standard procedure that juvenile criminal files are sealed once you’ve attained adult age. However, a juvenile record can still be accessible with a court order.
An Arrest Record
If an arrest did not result in a conviction, the court could be motioned to seal the record, if it’s proven that you were innocent of the charges you were arrested for.
Cases involving state secrets or trade secrets may also be sealed, as well as those using witness protection information.
How Will an Attorney Help Get My Record Sealed?
Remember, it’s impossible to file a motion of record sealing if you have a pending court case in any jurisdiction unless it’s a minor offense. Otherwise, you will have to wait until the case is concluded to seal your record. The motion also depends on whether the concluded case resulted in a conviction or not.
As stated, different states differ in the procedure as well as the eligibility of sealing records. A criminal defense attorney who has handled similar cases understands these nuances and will propose the best way forward. Once you have initiated the process, there might be statutes of limitations to which an attorney will ensure that you adhere.
Depending on your jurisdiction, the steps towards obtaining a record seal involve a lot of legal paperwork and a slight error may push you months back. This is why it is necessary to seek legal counsel. An attorney will provide you with the specifics per state, help out with the paperwork, which may be rigorous in some instances, and present supporting evidence in court.
From filing the motion to getting your record sealed, the whole process takes about 8 to 10 weeks, depending on your state.
I Have Sealed My Record. What’s Next?
When your record is sealed, it ceases to be a public record and is exempted from disclosure. You have a right to deny the existence of the record you had sealed, with some exceptions in individual states.
The final step, and perhaps the most important, is confirming the actual sealing of your record with a routine criminal records check. You can request a search with the Clerk of Courts where your case was filed. They will use your personal information to look through the files, so you should be forthcoming with your details.
If the search brings up no results, you will be issued with a certified official document of your clean record.