Sealing a Criminal Record After Probation or Parole
Getting Your Record Sealed After Completing Probation or Parole
Having a criminal record can make life difficult. Even after you’ve served your time and completed probation or parole, that record follows you around, making it harder to get a job, find housing, or move on with your life. Fortunately, many states offer record sealing or expungement for people who have stayed out of trouble after completing their sentence.
What is Record Sealing?
Record sealing (also sometimes called “expungement”) is a legal process that can remove certain convictions from your criminal record and make them inaccessible to the general public. It’s an opportunity to leave your past mistakes behind you.
Exactly what gets sealed and who can still access your record varies by state. But in general, a sealed record won’t show up on most background checks, allowing you to apply for jobs, housing, loans etc. without having to disclose a conviction. The records may still be accessible to some government agencies and could be brought up if you get arrested again, but sealing gives you a mostly clean slate.
Am I Eligible to Get My Record Sealed?
Eligibility requirements differ by state, but often include:
- Completing your full sentence, including probation or parole
- Staying out of legal trouble for a set waiting period (e.g. 1-5 years)
- Only having certain types of convictions on your record (e.g. non-violent misdemeanors)
Some states only allow record sealing for first-time offenders or limit the number of convictions you can seal. The specifics will depend on your local laws.
How Do I Apply to Seal My Criminal Record?
Sealing your record involves petitioning the court, so having an attorney to guide you through the process is highly recommended. In general, the steps are:
- Determine eligibility – Meet with a lawyer to see if your convictions can be sealed under state law
- Obtain records – Gather documentation about your criminal history, including records from courts, jails, probation etc.
- File petition – Work with your attorney to complete required court forms and file a formal request
- Attend hearing – Most states require you to attend a brief court hearing about sealing your records
- Fulfill additional requirements – You may need to complete extra steps like background checks or notifications
- Receive court order – If approved, the judge issues a court order directing agencies to seal eligible records
This process can take anywhere from 3 months to over a year depending on your location. Having an attorney makes it more likely your petition will be approved. Many legal aid organizations also provide free or low-cost help with record sealing for those who can’t afford a lawyer.
What Changes After My Record is Sealed?
Once your record is sealed, most agencies will update their records so your past convictions no longer appear on background checks. There are some exceptions (see next section), but in general you can legally answer “no” when asked if you have a criminal record.
This means you won’t have to disclose convictions when applying for jobs, housing, loans and other opportunities. Your charges also won’t appear in public record searches. Sealing gives you a chance to rebuild your life without the mistakes of your past holding you back at every turn.
Are Sealed Records Completely Hidden?
It’s important to understand that sealing does not completely erase or destroy your record. The convictions still exist in archived government databases, but access becomes restricted.
There are also some exceptions where sealed records could still appear or need to be disclosed:
- Future criminal cases – If you’re arrested again, prosecutors and judges may access your sealed history
- Government jobs/licenses – Some government agencies and professional licensing boards still require disclosing sealed records
- A few commercial background checks – Very extensive (and expensive) checks done by certain industries can sometimes reveal sealed convictions
However, for most purposes, a sealed record allows you to legally “leave the past in the past” and get your life back on track.
Conclusion: A Second Chance at Life
Having a criminal record makes rebuilding your life an uphill battle. Sealing eligible convictions after completing your sentence gives you a valuable fresh start by clearing your background check. An attorney can advise if you qualify and smoothly guide you through the sealing process.
With your record sealed, doors open to jobs, housing, and other life necessities without the burden of the past holding you back at every turn. It takes commitment and hard work to complete probation or parole, but by staying clean and out of trouble, you can pursue the second chance you deserve.
- How to Expunge Your Criminal Record After Probation (YouTube video)
- What is Record Sealing? (Podcast episode)
- Expungement and Record Sealing by State (Interactive map of state laws)