Expunging and Sealing Criminal Records (2023)

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This fact sheet will be periodically updated to account for new policy developments. It was last updated on April 23, 2020.

What is a criminal record?

A criminal record is a list of a person’s arrests and convictions that is maintained by the criminal justice system. More than 70 million Americans—nearly 1 in 3 adults—have a criminal record. As a result, more than 30 million U.S. children—nearly 1 in 2 kids—have at least one parent with a criminal record.

Not only do criminal justice agencies such as police, prosecutors, and courts have broad access to criminal records, but members of the general public, such as landlords and employers, can also search and obtain them. Even minor convictions that took place many years ago and arrests that did not result in a conviction are included in one’s criminal record, meaning that even when someone is legally innocent of a crime, they could face barriers associated with having a record.

What barriers are posed by having a criminal record?

Having a criminal record can severely limit one’s access to employment, education, housing, civic engagement, and public assistance. Nearly 9 in 10 employers, 4 in 5 landlords, and 3 in 5 colleges use background checks to screen for applicants’ criminal records, and one study found that more than 45,000 federal and state statutes and regulations impose disqualifications or disadvantages on individuals with a conviction. Even when there isn’t a conviction, an arrest record decreases a person’s employment prospects more than other common employment-related stigmas. Moreover, the collateral damage of having a criminal record reaches across generations, as the socioeconomic barriers associated with a parent’s criminal record can harm a child’s long-term well-being and outcomes.

These impacts are disproportionately felt by families and communities of color: People of color are arrested and convicted at disproportionately high rates. Criminal records can also be used to target noncitizens for deportation, severing familial ties within migrant communities.

Can criminal records be cleared?

In the United States, certain types of criminal records can be expunged or sealed by a judge or court. An expungement removes arrests and/or convictions from a person’s criminal record entirely as if they never happened. Even a court or prosecutor cannot view a person’s expunged record. In contrast, sealing removes a person’s criminal record from public view, but it can still be accessed through a court order.

Most states provide some form of expungement or sealing for certain types of records. Yet the federal government currently does not have a regular mechanism for clearing federal conviction or even nonconviction records. Expungements and sealing typically require the individual to file a petition, appear in court, and serve a waiting period without reoffending. Taking these steps, however, can cost hundreds of dollars in legal and administrative fees, dissuading many who are eligible from expunging or sealing their criminal records. Additionally, many eligible individuals simply may not know that these remedies are even an option.

(Video) How to Seal or Expunge Florida Criminal Record | Sealing and Expungement Process in Florida

"I got these qualifications, and I know I can do the job; I just wasn't given the opportunity. I'm way more than two misdemeanors." ― Ronald Lewis, Beneficiary of Pennsylvania's Clean Slate LawClean Slate Initiative, "A Criminal Record Shouldn't Be a Life Sentence to Poverty" (2018).

How can jurisdictions fix the problem?

Across the United States, states and local jurisdictions are making more criminal records eligible for expungement and sealing, including those that result from marijuana offenses and victimhood of human trafficking. States and localities are also increasingly taking steps to streamline existing procedures by eliminating waiting periods and reducing filing fees. From 2009 to 2014, at least 31 states and the District of Columbia expanded the scope and impact of expungement and sealing remedies in such ways.

A growing number of states are adopting “clean slate” laws to automate expungement and sealing procedures, in recognition of the many barriers that can prevent eligible individuals from clearing their records when filing a petition is required. At least three states, including Pennsylvania, have enacted clean slate legislation that creates an automatic and automated process for expunging or sealing certain eligible criminal records.

Furthermore, states are passing legislation to reduce occupational licensing barriers for individuals with criminal records. Today, a license to work is required for more than 1 in 4 jobs, including those in some of the fastest-growing industries, such as health care. In 2019 alone, at least nine states, including Texas, have begun to open these opportunities to qualified individuals with records by removing vague language in statutes and regulations, requiring transparency of licensing boards’ decisions, and eliminating blanket bans on people with records from becoming licensed.

What’s the opposition to expungements and sealing?

Some may argue that since people with records are thought to pose a threat to public safety, employers, landlords, colleges, and the general public have a right to know about a person’s criminal record. However, research suggests that individuals with sealed or expunged criminal records actually commit crimes at a lower rate than the general adult population. In Michigan, for example, 99 percent of such individuals are not convicted of any felony, 99.4 percent are not convicted of any violent crime, and 96 percent are not convicted of any crime at all within five years of sealing their criminal records.


Percentage of Michiganders who within five years of having their record sealed, had not committed a crime

(Video) The Difference Between Expunging & Sealing Criminal Records

University of Michigan Law School, "Expungement of Criminal Convictions. An Empirical Study" (2019)

Furthermore, expungement and sealing can benefit the economy by providing individuals with criminal records a second chance at employment. Economists estimate that the cost of barring these individuals from the workforce is roughly $78 to $87 billion in lost gross domestic product annually. One study found that putting to work just 100 of such individuals in Philadelphia would increase their lifetime earnings by $55 million, income tax contributions by $1.9 million, and sales tax contributions by $770,000.

Kenny Lo is a research associate for Criminal Justice Reform at the Center for American Progress.

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How long does it take for your record to clear after expungement in Illinois? ›

Expungement can take several months, which means if you want to clear your record, you should start as soon as possible. On average, it takes between 4 and 6 months. However, some cases are faster – and some take much longer.

How long does it take to seal and expunge a record in Florida? ›

Because of the required process, it typically takes up to 9 months to have your record sealed or expunged. This is because the first step in the process that everyone must go through is obtaining a Certificate of Eligibility from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

How long does it take to seal criminal record in Illinois? ›

The state of Illinois has up to 60 days to object to your Petition to Expunge or Petition to Seal. The speed of processing within your jurisdiction can also be a factor. Provided there are no objections and the petition is processed within a reasonable amount of time, three to four months is a solid estimate.

How long does it take to seal a criminal record in NY? ›

You can ask the court to seal certain felony and misdemeanor convictions: If you have no more than 2 misdemeanors or no more than 1 felony and 1 misdemeanor conviction and have been crime-free for 10 years. Visit Sealed Records: After 10 years. If you have successfully completed a drug treatment program.

Will a sealed record show up on a background check Illinois? ›

When a record is sealed, it cannot be seen by the general public. However, employers required by law to do background checks can still see sealed felony convictions.

How do I check my expungement status? ›

Enquiries can be emailed to expungements@justice.gov.za or you can call our Call Centre on 080 002 0007. PLEASE NOTE: ENQUIRIES BY WAY OF ELECTRONIC MAIL IS THE PREFERRED METHOD OF CORRESPONDENCE. ALL SUCH ENQUIRIES WILL BE ATTENDED TO WITHIN 5 WORKING DAYS.

What crimes Cannot be expunged in Florida? ›

List of Crimes that Can Never Get Expungement
  • Arson.
  • Aggravated Assault.
  • Aggravated Battery.
  • Illegal use of explosives.
  • Child abuse or Aggravated Child Abuse.
  • Abuse of an elderly person or disabled adult, or aggravated abuse of an elderly person or disabled adult.
  • Aircraft piracy.
  • Kidnapping.
Dec 20, 2022

Can police see expunged records in Florida? ›

Once a record has been expunged under Section 943.0585, F.S. it is no longer available to be disseminated to anyone, under any circumstances, absent a court order so authorizing.

Do I need a lawyer to expunge my record in Florida? ›

If a hearing in court before the judge is required, it is important to have an attorney experienced with the process to expunge and seal cases to represent you so that the chance can be minimized that your petition will be denied by the court.

What felonies Cannot be sealed in Illinois? ›

Offenses that cannot be sealed (hidden):
  • Reckless Driving (unless under 25 at the time of the offense and no other convictions for DUI or reckless driving)
  • Driving Under the Influence.
  • Domestic Battery.
  • Violation of an Order of Protection.
  • Violation of a Civil No-Contact Order.
  • Violation of a Stalking No-Contact Order.

Will a sealed misdemeanor in Illinois show up on a fingerprint background check? ›

Sealed records are not destroyed by the Illinois State Police, they are available to law enforcement. Only sealed felony conviction records are available to specific employers that are authorized by law to conduct fingerprint-based background checks through the Illinois State Police.

How much does it cost to seal a criminal record in Illinois? ›

The filing fee for expungement/sealing is $215.00, which covers the cost of filing the petition, copy fees, mailing and postage fees for the required notices, and fees to the Illinois State Police. There is no fee to file a petition to expunge a juvenile record.

What crimes Cannot be sealed in New York? ›

A person can, however, seal at most one (1) felony. Sex offenses, violent felonies, and serious felonies are not eligible for sealing. HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO SEAL A CONVICTION? This is the first time that New York has had a sealing law like this, so the courts cannot provide an estimate yet.

What offenses are not eligible for sealing New York? ›

Under this law, certain convictions are NOT eligible to be sealed including: Any sex offense (Penal Law Article 130)
Are you eligible for sealing under this law?
  • At least 10 years have passed since you were sentenced. ...
  • You have two or fewer criminal convictions, total. ...
  • You have no open cases.

What is the difference between sealing and expungement in NY? ›

Sealing means that while the conviction is hidden from the public, it remains accessible by certain governmental agencies such as law enforcement, the courts, the military if you enlist, and the agency that issues firearms licenses. With expungement a conviction is completely erased.

Who can see expunged records? ›

Nobody can see expunged records. Expungement completely removes these records, so they don't even exist. When a judge grants your request for criminal record expungement, all the agencies that have records on you must either destroy them or give them to you – so there's nothing for anyone to see.

Can I get a FOID card with a sealed record in Illinois? ›

Even if your criminal record is sealed, it will show up on this type of background check. That means the state of Illinois will know that you were convicted of a felony in the past, and it may deny your FOID card application.

Can I clear my criminal record after 5 years? ›

In terms of Section 271 of the Criminal Procedure Act, an application for expungement of a criminal record can be brought after ten (10) years after the conviction.

Can I get a job with a criminal record? ›

Simply having a criminal record does not prevent you from getting a job. In a limited number of cases, certain convictions may prevent you from working in certain roles, but, you are likely to already know about this if it applies to you.

How long does it take to remove criminal record? ›

The Head of the Criminal Record Centre will inform the applicant in writing that his convictions and sentences have been expunged. Please note this process usually takes about 20 – 28 weeks.

Does criminal record expire? ›

Why is it still on my record? Since 2006, the police retain details of all recordable offences until you reach 100 years of age. Your conviction will always show on your police records but the conviction may not show on your criminal record check that is used for employment vetting purposes.

What offenses are sealable in Florida? ›

Luring or Enticing a child; Procuring a Minor for Prostitution; Lewd or Lascivious Offenses upon or in the presence of one or more individuals under 16, or committed upon or in the presence of an elderly person or disabled person.

Does Florida destroy expunged records? ›

What does that mean? Well, an expungement is a Court order directing all government agencies that have access to your record - the Clerk of Courts, the State Attorney, the police department, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement - to destroy the record. Basically, it gets the charge off your record.

Who qualifies for expungement in Florida? ›

A person may apply to the appropriate prosecuting attorney to approve the expungement of his/her FDLE juvenile criminal history record if the subject has not been charged with or found to have committed any criminal offense (including the one that you are seeking to expunge) within the preceding 5 years.

Does your criminal record clear after 7 years in Florida? ›

Even though there are some issues with your credit report that might go away after seven years, this is not the case with a criminal record. If you have been convicted of a misdemeanor in the State of Florida, it is going to stay on your record forever unless you are able to have the conviction overturned.

Do I have to disclose an expunged felony in Florida? ›

As discussed in Question One, section 943.0585(4)(a)6., Florida Statutes, permits the subject of an expunged criminal history record to deny or fail to acknowledge the events covered by the expunged or sealed record unless he or she is seeking to be employed or licensed by the Office of Teacher Education, Certification ...

How many felonies can be expunged in Florida? ›

In the state of Florida, you typically can only have your case sealed and expunged once in a lifetime. Under Section 943.059, Section 943.0585, or previous versions of those statutes, in Florida. With respect to the relief offered by these statutes, a person may only seal or expunge one arrest record in one proceeding.

How much does an expungement cost in Florida? ›

An expungement costs (this does not include attorneys fees) about $124.00. This can be broken down in the following way: 1) $75 fee to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). This is the state agency that approves your expungement or sealing application.

How much does it cost to expunge a felony in FL? ›

Expungement typically takes about 7 months in Florida. Most attorneys charge around $900 for expungement. Some attorneys offer a money back guarantee in case the judge does not grant your expungement.

What is the difference between sealing and expunging a criminal record in Florida? ›

With a sealed record, your past offenses are still technically accessible. With an expungement, it essentially clears your record. Government entities can still see expunged records but will need a court order to do so. Expungement keeps your past record as confidential as possible.

What crimes are eligible for expungement in Illinois? ›

Arrests and charges for misdemeanors and felonies that did not lead to a conviction can be sealed at any time, except minor traffic offenses, unless you were released without being charged. Sealing hides your criminal record from most of the public. Law enforcement agencies can still see sealed records.

Can a felon own a gun after 10 years in Illinois? ›

Once you are convicted of a felony, you automatically lose your ability to have or obtain a FOID card. In order to restore your eligibility, you must demonstrate to the State Police Director or a county court judge that you meet the following criteria: No violent or forcible felony convictions in the last 20 years.

What records Cannot be expunged in Illinois? ›

  • DUI.
  • Reckless Driving if you were over 25.
  • Domestic Battery.
  • Most sexual cases.
  • Animal Cruelty cases.
  • Battery to an unborn child.
  • Violation of Order of Protection.
  • Violation of no Stalking Contact Order.

Does a misdemeanor show up on a background check after 7 years Illinois? ›

Under Illinois law, there is no time restriction on how far back a background check may go in terms of identifying any criminal convictions.

Who has access to sealed court records? ›

The following agencies and employers may access your sealed records: “Qualified agencies” (defined in Exec. Law § 835(9)), including courts and corrections departments, for law enforcement purposes. Federal and state law enforcement for law enforcement purposes.

How do I clear my criminal record? ›

You can apply to have your criminal record expunged when: a period of 10 years has passed after the date of the conviction for that offence. you have not been convicted and sentenced to a period of imprisonment without the option of a fine during those 10 years.

What charges Cannot be expunged in Illinois? ›

What Crimes Cannot Be Expunged in Illinois?
  • Animal care crimes.
  • Crimes that require you to register as a sex offender.
  • Crimes that require you to register as an arsonist.
  • Domestic battery.
  • Driving under the influence.
  • Many violent crimes and murder.

How long does a felony stay on your record in Illinois? ›

In Illinois, criminal convictions will stay on your record forever. Some convictions and arrests that did not lead to conviction are eligible to be sealed or expunged, which will remove the conviction from a person's public criminal history.

What felonies can be expunged in NY? ›

Having a crime expunged means that all records of your arrest, prosecution, and conviction are permanently destroyed. Unfortunately, New York has no statutes allowing for expungement of any crimes, except for certain marijuana-related convictions.

What charges are Cannot be sealed? ›

You CANNOT seal:
  • Any domestic violence charge. ...
  • A burglary of a dwelling. ...
  • Aggravated battery and aggravated assault, even if not crimes of domestic violence, cannot be sealed.
  • Any charge stemming from a sex offense. ...
  • Any sex offense at all. ...
  • Child abuse charges cannot be sealed.
Oct 20, 2022

What crimes have no statute of limitations NY? ›

Some offenses such as rape and murder have no statute or limitations. Most felony offenses have a five year statute of limitations period. Misdemeanor offenses have a two year statute of limitation period, while petty offenses generally have a one year statute of limitations.

Who can see expunged records in Illinois? ›

When your criminal record is expunged, it is erased, the records are destroyed, and it is as if it never happened. Once the process is completed, no one is able to access the records again, and no one will ever know about these records unless you inform them.

How does expungement work Illinois? ›

o Expungement: Erases arrests and court supervisions from your criminal record so it is like they never happened. Qualified Probations (see definition on Page 16) are only sealed by the State Police but are erased by the arresting agency.

How much does expungement cost in Illinois? ›

The filing fee for expungement/sealing is $215.00, which covers the cost of filing the petition, copy fees, mailing and postage fees for the required notices, and fees to the Illinois State Police. There is no fee to file a petition to expunge a juvenile record.

What qualifies for expungement in Illinois? ›

You may be immediately statutorily eligible for an expungement if the final disposition of your case was that charges were: dropped, dismissed, acquitted (not guilty) or arrested without charging. This is true regardless of whether you were charged with a felony or a misdemeanor.

What crimes Cannot be expunged in Illinois? ›

  • DUI.
  • Reckless Driving if you were over 25.
  • Domestic Battery.
  • Most sexual cases.
  • Animal Cruelty cases.
  • Battery to an unborn child.
  • Violation of Order of Protection.
  • Violation of no Stalking Contact Order.

What cases Cannot be expunged in Illinois? ›

Arrest, charges or sentences that cannot be expunged (erased):
  • Any federal conviction outside Illinois.
  • Any sentences you have not yet completed, including parole, probation, or court supervision.
  • Minor traffic offenses (unless you were released without being charged)

Do I need a lawyer to expunge my record in Illinois? ›

You do not have to have a lawyer to seal or expunge your record, but you may decide to hire one to help with the process. RESOURCES ON EXPUNGEMENT AND SEALING RECORDS: Illinois Attorney General's Office website at: http://www.illinois.gov/osad/Expungement/Pages/default.aspx.

What is the new expungement law in Illinois 2023? ›

IL HB 4392 Felony expungement changes

You can now apply for a felony expungement or sealing even if you have tested positive for cannabis within 30 days of filing the petition. Learn more about expunging or sealing a criminal record.

What felonies can be sealed in Illinois? ›

For the first time, certain forcible felony offenses can be sealed: murder, robbery, residential burglary, burglary, aggravated battery, to name a few. Other newly sealable felony or misdemeanor offenses include: misuse of credit card, obstruction of justice, perjury, and public indecency.

How do I Expunge my criminal record in Illinois for free? ›

In Illinois, some people are eligible for free criminal record expungement.
How Can I Get My Record Expunged for Free?
  1. Determine your eligibility.
  2. Get the fee waiver form.
  3. Fill out the fee waiver.
  4. Gather supporting documentation.
  5. Submit your fee waiver and supporting documentation to the court and wait for a decision.
Jun 5, 2020


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