What Is Record Sealing and How Does It Work?

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As felons know all too well, a felony conviction can follow them for the remainder of their lives.

There are ways to deal with this, however.  A previous blog post explained how clemency can eliminate the consequences of a felony even though the conviction remains on their record.

Another method of dealing with a felony record is to have their record expunged.

This blog post will cover the question of what record sealing is and how it works.

  • Record Expungement vs. Sealing
  • Benefits of Record Sealing
  • Sealing Process
  • Supporting Felons after the Decision

Record Expungement vs. Sealing

Aren’t record sealing and expungement the same thing?  What is the difference?

Many felons will be asking themselves the question of not how they are different but what difference it makes to seal their record, expunge it, or anything else.  It’s all futile and hopeless, isn’t it really?

Many felons believe nothing will make a difference, that no matter what they do, life is terrible and will always be terrible now that the permanent stain is there, right?

A previous blog post covered the issue of how to have their record expunged.

Just as a reminder, expungement involves having a felony dismissed from their record along with the consequences that accompany it.

Expungement shows that felons were rehabilitated and have maintained a clean record since completing all aspects of their sentence, including probation, and paying any restitution.

Those who are eligible for expungement typically have a single nonviolent conviction.

So, doesn’t that mean their record is sealed as a result?

No, that isn’t true.  With expungement, it is as if the record is no longer there, and, in fact, it may even be destroyed.

With record sealing, that record is still there in the government files, but it cannot be viewed.  Exceptions to this are government agencies, such as the police, FBI, and prosecutors.

But, in the case of felons who may later get into further legal trouble, those records can be unsealed and once again come back to haunt them, as they will be considered a repeat offender with a more serious sentence for being convicted again.

Benefits of Record Sealing

Having their record sealed can give felons a fresh start.  It can make it easier to get a job, continue their education, get housing, or a loan.

The record does still exist, and it is known by employers, etc. that some record is there, but the contents cannot be revealed.  If employers ask, felons are allowed to say, “No record.”

The feeling for felons may be that even though the record is sealed, won’t employers know that a criminal record is what is being hidden?  So how does that help?

Well, there are a number of reasons for sealing records that do not involve crime.

Often, birth records are sealed when someone is adopted to prevent birth parents from being identified.  In some civil cases involving trade secrets, records are sealed to protect that information.

Of course, there are other reasons also, such as for those entering a witness protection program.

Well, if record sealing is so great for felons, why don’t they all do that?

There are qualifications to be met first.  Part of that depends on the state in which they live and the state in which their felony was committed.  A check with state officials from those states is recommended before pursuing it.

Sealing Process

Then, there are specific requirements to be met.

If felons have only one conviction, they have a much greater chance for record sealing than if there is a long criminal history.

Then, if it is not a first or second degree felony or does not involve drug or sex offenses, children or the elderly, the chances of having those records sealed are greater.

Some felony drug offenses can be reduced to a misdemeanor, which improves the chances for sealing.

In many states, felony records can be sealed after a certain waiting period, typically 10 years after the sentence, probation, and restitution have been completed, as long as no additional charges have been filed for another crime.

If the case ended in being acquitted or the case was dismissed, then those records can be sealed.

In order to apply to have records sealed, the proper paper work must be obtained from the courts in the state where they reside.  They must be completed and returned to the court to be reviewed by the judge of that jurisdiction.

Once the judge has reviewed the application, felons will have a hearing before the judge.  It is very important to have good legal representation.

The focus of the presentation is to be on how the legal records in question have prevented felons from getting a job, housing, educational opportunities, and other services.

At this point, documentation of rejection letters from employers, housing, etc. can be beneficial.

The essential point to be established for the judge is how there is what is called a “compelling government interest” to seal the records, meaning the benefits to the state of felons’ getting a job, housing, etc.

This means demonstrating how that government interest is more important than the public’s First Amendment right to be able to view the records.

Also essential is how it is in the interest of fairness to seal the records.

This is the time to explain the circumstances of the crime and how their life has changed for the better since the sentence has been completed.

Felons need to document how they have improved themselves since their release through a re-entry program, education, training, and work experience.

If successfully sealed, new opportunities can be achieved.

Remember though to prepare for a good or bad outcome.

Supporting Felons after the Decision

For families of felons who have had their record sealed, reinforce their efforts and the challenges they faced in going through the sealing process.

If they can work hard enough to accomplish that, they can achieve so much more.

Felons shouldn’t lose hope if their felony is not sealed.

For families of felons who have been turned down for being sealed, continue to be there and be supportive.  Do not allow your loved one to give up.  Help them live the right way.

So what do you think about this blog post about how to apply for record sealing?  Have you or someone you know been through this process?  What was that like and were they successful?   Please tell us in the comments below.

About the author

After earning his MBA from Benedictine University, Ron was looking for a new challenge and stumbled on the idea of helping the formerly incarcerated.

Using what he learned, Ron developed this website as a free resource and has worked with his team​ to continue answering questions for those in need.

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