A warrant is a court order issued by a judge or magistrate that allows a law enforcement officer to look for the person named in the warrant and take them into custody. A felony warrant is a warrant that states that the person has committed a felony, a criminal offense that is punishable by more than one year in state prison. There are also misdemeanor warrants. A misdemeanor is a criminal offense that is punishable by up to one year in a county jail.
A sealed warrant is one that is confidential or sealed from view to the public. The court can seal the warrant when it issues the warrant or later, after the person named has been arrested. A person arrested pursuant to a sealed warrant can petition the court to seal the warrant after issuance.
Why Seal a Warrant?
Sealing a warrant helps a person prevent an employer or property manager from seeing an arrest on their criminal record when they are doing a background check. Not every arrest results in a prosecutor filing a criminal case, yet a record of an arrest can still negatively impact a person’s chances to get a job or housing.
How to Seal a Warrant
The act of sealing involves different steps in different states. A person should look at the rules of the state in which they have criminal charges or a criminal history to determine what sealing will accomplish. Acting to expunge a conviction is not the same as sealing the records related to it.
The person who wants a warrant sealed needs to examine their state laws regarding expungement to determine how expungement differs from sealing. In Nevada, expunging a record allows for the destruction of the records. Sealing the records removes the records from public view but does not authorize their destruction.
New York Rules Regarding Sealing
In New York, sealing means that the record still exists. Yet all related fingerprint and palm print cards, booking photos and DNA samples will be returned to the defendant or destroyed. Digital fingerprints are not destroyed if a person already has fingerprints on file from a different unsealed case.
After a criminal case is sealed, court records, including arrest warrants, are sealed from view from most parties. Yet certain parties are able to see the sealed records. These include the defendant, if they show ID; a person that the defendant authorizes to ask for court records, if they also show ID; the defendant’s employer, if the defendant applies for a job where they will carry a gun; the defendant’s parole officer, if the defendant is arrested on parole or probation; the prosecutor, if the defendant moves for an Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal (ACD) or a plea of not guilty on a marijuana charge; or a law enforcement agency after a request to the court.
Out-of-state and federal arrests and convictions are not part of the New York-specific criminal record. This means a person should not make a request in a New York state court to seal an out-of-state or federal arrest warrant.
California Rules Regarding Sealing
In California, a person may petition the court to have their warrant sealed where the pleading based on the arrest was filed or in a court with criminal jurisdiction in the city or county in which the arrest occurred. Alternatively, a person can petition to have their arrest warrant sealed if the state did not file charges and the statute of limitations has run; the state dismissed the case and may not refile it; the person was acquitted; the court convicted the person but later vacated the conviction; or the court reversed the conviction on appeal.
A person may not move to seal their arrest warrant if the state could still file charges. The court will not disclose arrest records to any person or entity except the person whose arrest was sealed or a criminal justice agency. The term “criminal justice agency” means a California court, a peace officer, a district attorney, a prosecuting city attorney, a probation officer, a parole officer, a public defender, an expert hired by a prosecuting or defense attorney in a criminal proceeding and a correctional officer.
Nevada Rules Regarding Sealing
In Nevada, a court may order criminal records to be sealed if certain conditions are met, and the court is satisfied that the subject has been rehabilitated. Nevada deems a record sealed when the record is physically removed from a record system and its dissemination is substantially or totally restricted. Sealing a criminal record prohibits access to the information in it except to employees of the state repository to manage records; a party or agency for an authorized search as provided for in state law; or a party authorized pursuant to a court order.
The procedures for sealing criminal history records in Nevada varies by county. The person who was arrested should contact the court in the jurisdiction where the arrest occurred. When a court enters an order to seal records, the order may require that certain criminal justice agencies outside the state comply with its direction. Yet these agencies are not bound to follow the order, so it is possible that the other courts will not remove the arrest warrant from their records. The process of sealing records may take between two and four months to complete.
Florida Rules Regarding Sealing
In Florida, a person may petition a court to seal records when the person has not been found guilty of a criminal offense in the state or adjudicated delinquent in Florida for committing certain felony or misdemeanor offenses, unless the record of adjudication of delinquency has been expunged. The list of particular offenses includes assault, battery, assault on a police officer, arson and a number of other serious crimes.
The person also must not have been adjudicated guilty or delinquent of committing the acts to which the petition to seal pertains. Further, the person must no longer be under court supervision for the activity to which the petition to seal pertains. They cannot have secured a prior sealing or expunction of a criminal history.
A criminal history of a minor or an adult that a court orders sealed is confidential. It is only available to the defendant, their criminal defense attorney, criminal justice agencies for their respective criminal justice purposes and judges in the state courts system. It is also available to certain other entities including public schools, the Florida Department of Children and Families, and the Florida Bar for licensing access authorization and employment purposes.
- California Penal Code: Section 851.91, Arrest, by Whom and How Made
- New York Courts.Gov: Sealed Criminal Records
- 2021 Florida Statutes: Section 943.059 Court-ordered Sealing of Criminal History Records
- California Penal Code: Section 851.92 Arrest, by Whom and How Made
- Nevada State Police Records, Communications and Compliance Division: Information on the Sealing of Nevada Criminal History Records
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.