The ability to seal one's criminal record traces its roots back to English common law. Common law holds that a first-time offender should not be burdened with a life-time criminal record should they undertake rehabilitation or make restitution. If a judge grants your request to seal your records, a motion will be issued to all criminal authorities in your state that have a copy of the record, requesting they remove the entry from public access. The eligibility requirements to have a criminal record sealed varies from state to state, but the general process to request a criminal record be sealed is similar in all states.
Determine if your case is eligible to be sealed, based on your state's criminal records laws. Conviction records are not automatically expunged or sealed after a period of years. Absent a standing court order, you have to file a written request in court and meet the state's eligibility requirements (see Resources). Juvenile court records are generally sealed once the adjudication or hearing process starts.
Gather all information related to your conviction and punishment. This information should be online or at the local clerk's office in the jurisdiction in which the crime was prosecuted.
Request the forms used to request your record be sealed from the clerk of courts. Complete the forms and make at least seven copies. Turn the originals over to clerks and have them stamped as "Received." The clerk should advise you if and when a hearing on the matter will be held.
Take the copies you made and send them by certified mail to any agency that would have an interest or objection to your criminal record being sealed. In Ohio and New Jersey, it is required that copies of your petition application be sent to the attorney general, the local prosecutor, the state police, the warden where you served time and the chief of police in the jurisdiction where the offense occurred.
Keep the return receipt copies that are mailed back to you as proof you notified the proper authorities of your request and bring them with you to you hearing. If there are no objections to the request from local authorities and the judge agrees, a motion will be entered into the record to seal your criminal conviction.
Make copies of the judge’s order and send out the copies to the same agencies that you mailed the copies of the original request. The court, in most states, will send copies of this order to all local authorities that have a record of your offense in their files. The agencies will be instructed to remove your criminal record from public access.
- Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images