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Can I Get My Records Sealed?

James B. Bennett Law Office Jan. 3, 2024

Handcuffs and fingerprint record sheetsNavigating life with a criminal record can feel like carrying a heavy weight every single day. It's a burden that seeps into various aspects of your life, from job prospects to housing applications and even personal relationships.

It's your right to know there's a legal process known as record sealing that might offer some relief, potentially shielding your past mistakes from public view, and allowing you to move forward with renewed hope.  

As a seasoned criminal defense attorney in El Dorado, Arkansas, I've worked with numerous individuals who are grappling with the consequences of having a criminal record, helping them through the record sealing process. It's a legal procedure that restricts access to your criminal records, ensuring they're not readily available to the general public. It's an option worth considering if you want to move forward without the burden of your past mistakes. 

How Does Record Sealing Differ From Expungement?

While record sealing and expungement serve the same ultimate goal of helping individuals overcome the challenges of a criminal record, their methods and implications are distinctly different.  

Expungement is akin to hitting the 'delete' button on your criminal history. In an expungement, your criminal record is essentially erased. Once your record is expunged, it's as if the crime never occurred. You're legally allowed to deny the existence of the crime, and for most intents and purposes, it's as if it never happened. 

Record sealing, meanwhile, is more like locking your criminal record in a secure box. The records still exist, but their visibility is severely restricted. Sealed records are not accessible to potential employers, landlords, or the general public during background checks. However, they can still be accessed and viewed by law enforcement agencies and certain government entities under specific circumstances.  

In both cases, the specific laws and regulations vary widely from one jurisdiction to another. Hence, it's advisable to seek legal counsel to understand the best course of action for your individual circumstances. 

Who Can Request to Have Their Records Sealed? 

In light of varying legislation across jurisdictions, there are common groups of individuals who may be considered for record sealing: 

  • First-Time Offenders: Individuals who have committed a crime for the first time are often given the benefit of the doubt. The court may allow record sealing for these individuals, on the basis that they've learned from their mistakes and are unlikely to re-offend. 

  • Juvenile Offenders: In many jurisdictions, juvenile records are automatically sealed once the individual reaches a certain age (usually 18 or 21). This is done to prevent early mistakes from defining the course of a young person's life. However, severe crimes may be excluded from this provision. 

  • Non-Violent Offenders: Those convicted of non-violent crimes, particularly minor ones, may be eligible for record sealing. The idea here is that individuals who did not pose a direct physical threat to others deserve a second chance. 

  • Individuals with Old Convictions: If a substantial amount of time has passed since the conviction and the individual has not reoffended, they may qualify for record sealing. This suggests that they've reformed and reintegrated into society successfully. 

Please note that these are general categories and the specifics will depend on the laws of the state in question. It's also important to understand that record sealing is not a right, but a privilege granted at the discretion of the court. Therefore, even if one fits into one of these categories, it's not a guarantee that their request for record sealing will be approved. 

Who Is Not Eligible Have Their Records Sealed? 

Unfortunately, not everyone qualifies for record sealing. Typically, individuals who have committed violent crimes or sex offenses may not be eligible. It's also worth noting that those who have not completed their sentences or are repeat offenders might not qualify for this process. 

Why Should You Seal Your Records? 

Sealing your records can open up new opportunities and allow you to live without the constant reminder of past mistakes. It can significantly improve your chances of finding employment, securing housing, and accessing educational opportunities. More than that, it provides a sense of closure, allowing you to move forward with your life free from the stigma of a criminal record

What Does the Process Entail? 

The process of sealing records involves filing a petition with the court and providing supporting documentation. It's a meticulous process that requires following the correct legal procedures and meeting all requirements. The process usually involves the following steps: 

  1. Assess Eligibility: Before you begin the process, determine if you're eligible for record sealing. This depends on the nature of your conviction, your criminal history, and the jurisdiction's specific laws. 

  1. Obtain Your Criminal Record: You will need a copy of your criminal record, which can usually be obtained from the appropriate law enforcement agency. 

  1. Prepare the Petition: You'll need to prepare a petition for record sealing. This document usually includes your personal details, information about the conviction you wish to seal, and a statement explaining why you believe your record should be sealed. 

  1. Submit the Petition: Once the petition is prepared, it needs to be filed with the court. There might be a filing fee associated with this. 

  1. Attend a Hearing: In some cases, the court may require a hearing. During the hearing, you or your criminal defense attorney will present arguments supporting your case for record sealing. 

  1. Receive the Court's Decision: If the court grants your petition, it will issue an order to seal your records. However, if your petition is denied, you may have the opportunity to appeal the decision or reapply after a certain period. 

  1. Notify Relevant Parties: After the court has granted your petition, certain law enforcement or government agencies may need to be notified about the sealing of your records. 

Keep in mind that this is a general process and the specific steps might vary depending on your jurisdiction's laws. It's always recommended to seek legal advice to navigate this process effectively. 

Your Past Doesn't Have to Define Your Future

At the James B. Bennett Law Office, we're committed to helping you navigate the complexities of record sealing. With decades of experience in criminal defense and family law, we understand the challenges you're facing and are here to provide compassionate support and skilled representation. 

Don't let a criminal record define your future. Reach out to my office in El Dorado, Arkansas, for a free consultation. Together, we can explore your legal options and develop a strategy that best suits your situation. Remember, everyone deserves a second chance. Let us help you seize yours.