“Can I seal my criminal record?” is a question frequently asked by those with a criminal record. And why shouldn’t it be? With more and more employers and landlords using background checks to guide their decisions. Unfortunately, many former offenders make three common blunders that prevent them getting their record sealed.
Many former offenders find that the worst part of being convicted is not the hefty fines, jail time or probation, it is the long lasting effect of having a criminal record. Avoiding these three common pitfalls can help a person seeking to seal their criminal get started on the right foot and make sure they know what their options are.
The first common mistake they make is inquiring about a legal term that is not relevant in the state where their conviction occurred. State law determines what remedies are available to clearing the criminal record. The process of clearing a criminal record has a wide-range of names. For instance, in Utah it is expungement, in Florida it is record sealing, in California it is setting aside, in Washington it is vacating. A person who asks a court employee or attorney about a legal remedy by the wrong name may get the bad news that the remedy is not available in the state without the person going the extra step to inform them about the good news that a remedy with a different name can accomplish their goals.
A person who is seeking to have their record sealed should not attempt to use a specific legal term when asking for assistance, but instead should ask about the goal they are looking to achieve.
The second mistake people make is seeking legal advice from someone who is not qualified to provide it. There is a surplus of people who can mix in enough truth with speculation to sound credible. Among those are many attorneys. According to Nevada attorney Mathew Higbee, state laws related to record sealing can be “deceptively complicated.”
Reading any internet message board discussions or self-help sites about criminal record sealing will reveal a long list of contradictory advise and assertions.
A person who is seeking to get his or her record sealed should seek the advice of someone with demonstrated expertise in clearing a record. Be mindful that not all lawyers are experts or even know much about criminal record clearing. If a person receives bad news from the first expert, he or she should get a second or third opinion.
The third mistake people make is asking once and never asking again. Laws that govern criminal record sealing change frequently. According to the Foundation for Continuing Justice, a non-profit that tracks criminal record expungement and sealing laws, 17 states have expanded their record sealing laws in the past 2 years.
Someone looking to have their record expunged or sealed should follow the laws in the state where there conviction occurred. Since most lawyers who practice law in this area offer to give a free consultation that discusses eligibility, there is no reason no to ask a lawyer every two or three years to review the case.
Clearing a criminal record, by whatever name it is called, will continue to be an attractive goal for those with a criminal record, especially as technology makes it easier and less expensive to access criminal background checks. Avoiding these simple and common mistakes will help many people make sure that they are able to take advantage of laws designed to help them leave their record in the past and move on with their lives.