The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) maintains a database of every American's criminal record. Your criminal record may be used against you when you apply for a job or for any financial loans. However, you can petition the FBI, via the agency that submitted your arrest record, to seal your criminal record so that entities such as housing authorities or potential employers will be unable to access it.
Wait the required period after your crime. Each crime has a waiting period set by the state before you can ask to have your records sealed. In some states, you will have to wait 15 years if you were convicted of a felony. The waiting period for misdemeanors is generally shorter than for felonies.
Contact your state's probation department. The probation department can provide a petition form you can use to request that your criminal records be sealed. You can also ask your attorney for a petition.
Complete the petition form.
Give the petition office a recent drug test result. This step is only for people who have a drug-related conviction.
Send copies of your petition to the offices your state determines. For example, in the state of Illinois, you must send copies of the petition to the state Attorney General's office, the police department that arrested you, the chief legal officer of that police department and the Illinois state police department. The petition form should state the offices to which you need to send copies.
Prepare for your hearing. You can represent yourself or you can hire an attorney to speak for you. You will to need to explain why you feel your records should be sealed. Provide examples of how your criminal record has prevented you from obtaining work or a loan and point out (if applicable) that you have not had any other arrests or convictions during the waiting period.
Attend your sealing court date. If the organizations involved accept the petition, they will call for a hearing where you can state your case and ask to have part or all of your criminal records sealed. The hearing is usually held about six weeks after you file your petition.
Wait for the judge's decision. Some judges may give you their decision right after the hearing. Other judges may give you a decision in the mail after a few weeks. If the judge decides not to seal the records, you can re-petition immediately and start the process over again. If the judge does seal the records, the FBI is notified.
- The waiting period for filing a petition begins after your probation period ends, you are released from prison or the case ends in court, whichever is later.
- Crimes that involve sexual abuse or that require you to register as a sex offender are extremely difficult to seal.
- Records of motor vehicle crimes usually cannot be sealed.
- No first- or second-degree felonies can be sealed.
- Many states allow you to state "no record" on the criminal history section of an application if your record is sealed.
- If you were found not guilty for a crime, but still were arrested, you can request to have your record sealed immediately.
- old jail image by Tracy Horning from Fotolia.com