Difference Between Record Sealing vs. Record Expungement
We often get the question from our clients about the difference between criminal record sealing and criminal record expungement, and thought it would be best to write a quick article explaining the difference.
Criminal record sealing: Sealing a record is only available in two situations: (1) Arrest Record - For an arrest record that did not result in a conviction. In that case we can motion the court under PC 851.8 to have the arrest record sealed, if we can prove you were factually innocent of the charge you were arrested for (view arrest record sealing page). (2) Juvenile Record - A juvenile record in, in most cases, can be sealed as well (view juvenile record sealing page).
Sealing a record offers the greatest amount of relief available, but unfortunately it is only available in the above two situations. After a record has been ordered sealed then the entire record, including fingerprints, booking photo, and arrest report, will be sealed and then subsequently destroyed three years after the arrest. The arrest will be treated as if it never occurred for all intents and purposes.
Criminal record expungement: Getting a crimianl record expunged (which is actually a dismissal - read our article on the difference between an expungement and a dismissal) is the only relief that is available once there has been an adult conviction. Once the record is expunged (which is not the same as sealing) the official record is modified to show as "dismissed" rather than "convicted." This allows you to answer "no" if asked if you have a past criminal conviction on 99.9% of applications or questionnaires. Furthermore, once the conviction has been dismissed the case information will not display on most employer background checks (read our article on what will display on an employer background check after expungement).
Record sealing is only available for an adult arrest that did not result in a conviction, or most juvenile criminal records. Criminal record expungement is the only relief available if a conviction occurred, as an adult criminal conviction can never be sealed in California.