criminal law

What Is the Difference Between Expunging & Sealing Records?

Expungement vs. Sealing Records: Clearing Your Record for a Fresh Start

A criminal record can have a lasting impact on your life. Even minor offenses can hinder your ability to secure employment, housing, and educational opportunities. This hindrance can have a significant negative impact on a person's ability to move forward and build a successful life. Fortunately, there are legal options available to help individuals mitigate the consequences of past mistakes.

Expungement and record sealing are two processes that can offer a fresh start, but they function in distinct ways. Understanding the differences between them is important when deciding which course of action best suits your needs.

Expunging a Record

Expungement is a legal procedure that essentially erases a criminal record from its official existence. If your petition for expungement is granted, the arrest and conviction are essentially destroyed. This means the record is no longer accessible to the public, including potential employers and landlords, through most standard background checks.

Eligibility for Expungement

Not all criminal offenses qualify for expungement. The eligibility criteria may vary by state. In Maryland, eligibility for expungement can hinge on the type of charge and its outcome.

Some instances where you can file for expungement include:

  • Acquittal, dismissal, or a finding of not guilty
  • Stet (i.e. your case was indefinitely postponed on the court docket)
  • Probation before judgment for most offenses

However, expunging a conviction is more difficult. For convictions, expungement eligibility hinges on the offense itself, whether probation was revoked, any subsequent convictions during the waiting period, and the time elapsed since the sentence was successfully completed.

For example, while offenses such as malicious destruction of property and possession of a controlled dangerous substance can be expunged after a shorter period of time, other offenses like possession with intent to distribute a controlled dangerous substance and burglary cannot be expunged until several more years have passed. Any convictions during the waiting period will prevent the underlying offense from being eligible for expungement until the later offense becomes eligible. There are special rules for expunging marijuana and traffic offenses that can be difficult to navigate.

Read MD. Code, Criminal Procedure §10-110 to learn more about the specifics concerning which offenses are eligible for expungement.

Pros & Cons of Expungement

Expungement offers the most significant level of relief. Once granted, law enforcement and other entities will certify that they have complied with the order for expungement. This might significantly improve your chances of securing opportunities that might otherwise be out of reach with a criminal record, such as employment, financial aid, or loans.

It's important to understand that expungement is not a complete erasure of your past. Law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI, may still have access to portions of the expunged record. Additionally, you may be required to disclose the expunged offense in specific situations.

Sealing a Record

Sealing a record, while similar in its rehabilitative intentions, differs in execution. When a criminal record is sealed, it is not erased but rather hidden from the general public's view. This means that the conviction or arrest remains in the legal system but is not as easily accessible.

Yet, it’s crucial to understand that sealed records are not invisible to everyone. Certain government agencies, law enforcement, and other officials can still access these records.

Eligibility for Record Sealing

You can petition to have your record sealed after you completed a sentence and sufficient time has elapsed. In Maryland, you can petition the court to shield (or seal) your record if you have been convicted of certain offenses.

Retain Our Counsel

Consulting with an experienced attorney is crucial. They can help you determine your eligibility for expungement or record sealing, navigate the legal process, and advise you on the potential consequences of each option.

At Matthew Penick Law, we have been serving clients in Maryland and the surrounding areas for over a decade. Should you or a loved one wish to seal or expunge your record and have a fresh start, our team is here and equipped to help.

Known for being “knowledgeable and experienced” as well as “accessible,” we offer our clients individualized, comprehensive counsel. Looking at your case details, we can discuss what your options are (in terms of eligibility for either sealing or expunging your record); we can also discuss what the process entails and potential outcomes.

Contact us online or via phone at (410) 618-0863 to request a free consultation today.