What is the difference between an expungement and the sealing a record?

Expungement or Sealing a Record in Pennsylvania

An expungement is better than the sealing of a record because an expungement results in the destruction of records.  If something is destroyed, then no one can see it.  With the sealing of a record, the record still exists, but the record cannot be viewed by some people, primarily the public.  When a record is sealed, it is not publicly accessible, so it would not appear on background searches conducted by employers, but the record can be viewed by law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges.

Why is an expungement better than the sealing of a record?  Quick example – presume that a person was convicted of a summary offense of Retail Theft and got into trouble again.  Because the conviction was for a summary offense, a summary conviction can be expunged after five years if the person stayed out of trouble.  If the conviction were expunged, then no one would have a record of the conviction, so the person would be treated as a first time offender.  If the person only obtained an order for limited access to seal the record, then a police officer, prosecutor, or judge can view the prior offense.  The people that could view the prior offense could consider that prior in determining how to resolve the current case.  If no record existed, the person may be eligible to participate in a diversionary program like ARD to have the new charged dismissed and expunged because the prosecutor and judge would not be aware of the prior offense.  However, if the record was only sealed, then the prosecutor or judge may not permit participation in a diversionary program because the person had been in trouble before.

Simply stated, having no record is better than having a sealed record.  A person with a criminal record should check to see if they are eligible to expunge instead of seeking an order for limited access.  If the person is not eligible to expunge, obtaining an order for limited access and sealing the record is better than having the record appear when employers run background checks.

If you have questions about expungement or limited access eligibility, contact an experienced defense attorney at JD Law to review your prior conviction history and discuss your legal options.  Call the State College criminal defense firm at (814) 965-7622 or via email.