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Sealing the Record: The Basics of Expungement

Seeking an expungement is a simple process, but what it means for your record can be confusing. Many people don’t know that the process is something available to them. Instead of seeking out eligibility and the court proceeding, they let their conviction negatively affect their lives.

In this article, we discuss expungement and how it’s different from sealing an arrest record. Continue reading to learn more about it and how it can benefit you.

What is Expungement?

It is effectively erasing a criminal conviction from a defendant’s criminal record. For an expungement to occur, a judge or court must order it. Having a conviction expunged from your record does not mean you won’t (or haven’t) received punishment for that conviction as it’s not the same as a legal pardon.


Before learning about the court proceeding, you need to determine your eligibility. These factors include the amount of time since the conviction, the severity of the crime, and the defendant’s previous criminal record.

More severe crimes such as a sex offense may be denied expungement. Likewise, someone with an extensive (and severe) criminal history may be denied expungement as well.

Some examples of ineligibility for expungement include convictions of the following:

  • Felony offense
  • Weapons offense
  • Sexual offense
  • Cruelty to animals
  • Intimidation of a witness
  • Any offense that is punishable by 2 or more years
  • Multiple prior convictions punishable by 1 or more years

Keep in mind, this list does not include all exceptions for eligibility of expungement. Even if these factors don’t apply to you, you are still not entitled to expungement.

Expungement vs. Sealing Records

Sealing records is not the same, though it’s similar. Sealing an arrest record prevents access to the general public. For example, an employer or private investigator would not be able to view a sealed record.

However, sealing a conviction record does not prevent those in the criminal justice system from seeing the record. In contrast, an expungement tells the court to act as if it never existed, though there will be evidence that an expungement occurred.


The process depends on your state of residence, but you will likely have to petition the court. For the criminal expungement process in Pennsylvania, the defendant is required to complete Form SP 4-170 and mail it to the Central Repository with other necessary documents.

Once your application is received, the court decides whether or not to grant it. If they approve, the Clerk of Courts will send a court order for the police department to expunge the record.

While the process sounds simple, it’s important to keep in mind that it can take up to 6 months for your record to be cleared depending on your state.

Know What to Expect

If you need to seek expungement of your record, you need to know what to expect. Start by determining your eligibility before diving too far into the process. Once you’re eligible seek out the details of the process in your state.

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