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Records sealing: what you should know about this alternative to a permanent record

On behalf of Dolan + Zimmerman LLP December 11, 2018

The National Employment Law Project estimates that more than 65 million Americans hold a criminal record of some sort, including convictions for misdemeanors and felonies. Most people know that a conviction, no matter what it is for or when the offense occurred, can follow you around for the rest of your life. However, did you know that even an acquittal or a dismissal of your case can mean a record that will show up on every background check, too?

Luckily, under certain conditions, this record doesn’t have to be permanent: if you pursue expungement, it can be sealed so that no employer has to see it, and you don’t have to talk about it ever again.

The benefits of records sealing

Having the records of your case sealed means several things:

  • It will no longer show up on accurate background checks. The records of your case will still be visible to law enforcement and other government agencies, but will not appear on accurate background checks that are accessible to most employers.
  • The police reports and court records are no longer part of the public record. Though the records will still exist, they will be marked as sealed and cannot be shared with the public. The public cannot access police reports and other records associated with a sealed case.
  • You can tell people it never happened. It might feel odd, but when the record of a case is sealed, you are legally permitted to tell anyone who asks that the case never existed at all.

These benefits can be huge. If you are eligible to petition to seal the records of a case, the process is well worth it.

Understanding the requirements and process

Not all criminal records are eligible for sealing. If the court dismissed your case if you were completely acquitted after a trial, you are eligible to have the records of your case sealed. Sealing is sometimes an option when a conviction is involved, too: for instance, certain drug offenses, petty offenses, and municipal offenses can be eligible for expungement after certain statutorily mandated periods of time.

File sealing is a complex process. Attempting it on your own is not recommended, as any errors can be challenging and time-consuming to fix, and may result in some records remaining available. If you believe that you have a case that may be eligible for sealing, or if you have questions about a case, you should contact an experienced attorney today.