Expunging and Sealing Criminal Records

Nearly 70 million Americans have a criminal record. A criminal record is a document that lists a person’s arrests and convictions. Such records are accessible to police, courts, landlords, employers, and many more organizations. Consequently, having a criminal record can limit one’s access to employment, education, housing, and assistance programs. Therefore, the collateral damage of a criminal record affects individuals and families alike. Fortunately, there are some ways that a burdened individual can expunge their record and erase the evidence of a criminal past. There are four things that an individual interested in criminal record expungement should know:

  1. Expungement. In the United States, some criminal records may be expunged as a method of granting a convicted individual a fresh start. An expungement removes arrests and/or convictions from a person’s criminal record entirely. Expunged records cannot even be accessed by the court, while sealed records are protected from public view, but can still be accessed through court instruction.
  2. Sealing Records. Courts have the inherent power to seal any record. Although federal judges rarely exercise this power, state judges do so on a regular basis. Sealing a record allows that individual to protect his/her private records from public view; however, a sealed record can be unsealed by a court and used by a public official.
  3. State Practices. Most states provide some form of expungement and/or sealing for various types of records. Individuals seeking an expungement should review their local policies.  
  4. Disadvantages. While expunging a criminal record provides many benefits, there are some disadvantages that may stop a person from seeking an expungement. Expungements and sealings typically require the individual to file a petition, appear in court, and serve a waiting period without reoffending. These steps may cost hundreds of dollars in legal and administrative fees, which dissuades many eligible candidates from pursuing these legal options.
  5. Eligibility. Across the country, states are classifying more criminal records as eligible for expungement and sealing, including drug offenses. States are also making more thorough efforts to expand expungement opportunities by making them more affordable and accessible. In particular, Texas has recently begun making more direct efforts by removing vague language in statutes, requiring transparency from licensing boards, and eliminating blanket bans on people with records from obtaining certain professional licenses.

Record expungement and sealings open a variety of doors for individuals with criminal records. Before expungement, convicted individuals may be ineligible for certain jobs, housing opportunities, and national benefits; however, expungement and sealing allows these individuals to experience a fresh start and truly begin again. Ultimately, while these practices are relatively new, future expansion promises a bright future for all American citizens.

If you’ve been convicted of a crime and want to discuss options for your criminal record, seek the legal counsel of a lawyer, such as a criminal defense lawyer from Brandy Austin Law Firm, PLLC, as soon as possible. Call a law firm today.