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Expungement vs. Seal

As criminal defense attorneys, our goal is not just to defend you in court, but to ensure that your rights and criminal history are protected. If you are arrested on a criminal offense in your younger days and are now applying for a government job, it may be a bit more difficult than you might think. This arrest will come back up. Many of our clients ask us about expungements and seals to protect themselves from their past, but what’s the difference between an expungement and a court-ordered seal?


Arresting Process


Before we get into what an expungement is and what a seal is, we have to explain the process that the legal system takes when you get arrested. The moment you are “processed” under any charge, whether it’s for a DUI, drug possession, or any other offense, your name is sent across many systems. You are placed into your city or county’s police records system, as well as your state’s. The officer is also legally required to upload your arrest information to the National Criminal Information Center, or NCIC. This system is monitored by the FBI. Afterwards, your case will be dealt with appropriately.

It’s important to note that this process will happen no matter what charge you are arrested under and there is no way around it.

What is an Expungement?


When you apply for a job, you may not want your potential employer to see some of the crimes for which you’ve been arrested (but not necessarily convicted) in the past. This also protects you from allowing prosecutors to use your criminal history against you in any future cases. To have your record “expunged” means to have all traces of it removed. The record will seem as if it never happened. This can be beneficial for anyone with a criminal past.

When an expungement is approved, your record will be removed from your local police’s records, the state’s records, and from the Circuit Clerk’s records. However, your expungement is not removed from the NCIC’s records.


What is a Seal?


When you have a court-ordered seal on your records, it is literally a seal on an envelope. The records still exist and have your arrest history and your convictions; however, they can’t be opened. When your record is sealed, the court officials will take your physical records and place them in an actual envelope with a special seal. As with any envelope, it can be opened with the right authority. The record cannot be used in a background check or in an arrest from an officer. Under limited circumstances, the court can order the seal to be opened and used in a prosecution case.


Expungement vs. Seal


The core difference between an expungement and a seal is the accessibility of each. When a record is expunged, it’s destroyed entirely. When a record is sealed, it’s merely inaccessible by most authorities. Both an expungement and a seal are essentially immune to federal employers and federal crimes. This means that if the FBI is taking you to court for a federal offense, neither option can protect your past. It also means that if you’re applying for a federal job, they can review these records. However, with a seal they have to have a court order to open the seal. These requests are almost always approved.

It is important to note that if you apply for a state job, such as with the State Highway Administration (SHA), your record is safe. They do not have the access or the authority to view your expunged records.


Expungement Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)


  1. When can I have my record expunged?

You must wait at least 3 years before you can have your record expunged if you are not convicted. If you are convicted, you must finish your sentence or probation period before filing for an expungement.

  1. Are there exceptions?

Yes. If your case matches any of the following your case cannot be expunged:

  • Guilty plea or guilty verdict excluding probation
  • Probation
  • Sexual offense against a minor
  1. How much does it cost?

There is a filing fee for each case you request to be expunged. The cost varies between each state, but Maryland’s expungement fee is $30 per case. Please note that each case does not mean each charge.

  1. How do I get started?

To file for an expungement, you must fill out an expungement form from the District Court of Maryland’s website. A PDF for the form is available here. We recommend contacting an experienced Maryland criminal defense lawyer before getting started.


Have any Questions?


The process can be confusing and everyone’s situation is different. Contact us today if you have any questions about an expungement or seal. We’ll help you move beyond your past.