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What’s the Difference Between Expungement and Record Sealing?

It's very difficult for someone to navigate life when they have to carry with them the burden of having a criminal record. Many times, people who have a criminal record will have difficulties in securing employment, renting a residence, or applying for government benefits.

The U.S. justice system recognizes the consequences of someone having to carry this kind of burden. It's for that reason that the courts do provide two pathways for a convicted criminal to remove the evidence of their criminal record from public view. These two pathways are expungement and record sealing.

If you have a criminal record you would like removed from public view, it would benefit you to understand the difference between these two pathways. 

What is Expungement?

Expungement is a process whereby your criminal record would be completely wiped away from the justice system's database. It would be as if your criminal conviction or convictions never existed. While the records would still technically exist in paper form, no one, including judges and law enforcement, would ever be able to get access to the information. Expungement is a permanent process.

The most important benefit you would derive from the expungement process is it would remove any legal obligation you have to admit to having a criminal record. If you were to answer such a question with "no", there would be no way for the questioner to disprove your reply.

You would be within your rights to request expungement if you are currently charged with a crime or on probation or parole, or have already completed your entire sentence.

What is Record Sealing?

If for any reason you are ineligible for expungement, it is possible to have a judge seal your criminal records. Record sealing would result in your records being removed from the public's view.

To be clear, the records would still exist and be on file. Certain government agencies and law enforcement would still be able to access your criminal records through a court order. That kind of access would not be available for employers, landlords, etc.

With this option, you could still be able to legally deny the existence of a criminal record. It's worth noting that some states automatically seal criminal records for juvenile offenders.

If you need assistance from a criminal defense attorney in San Bernadino, California area, please feel free to contact our office today.