Expungement vs Sealing – What’s the Difference, and Which is Better?

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Oct 09, 2023 | 0 Comments

If you have a criminal record, you may be wondering whether it's possible to leave that part of your past behind. At the same time, you might have heard about getting your record “expunged” or “sealed” and are wondering whether one of those would work for you.

Expungement vs. Sealing

First, let's discuss the difference between expungement and sealing.

If your record is expunged, it is as though you were never convicted. If a future employer or rental agent asks you if you've ever been convicted of a crime and your criminal record has been expunged, you can safely and fairly (in most but not all cases) say “no.”

If your record is sealed, on the other hand, your conviction remains on the books, but law enforcement agencies in Pennsylvania are prohibited from revealing your record if someone requests a background check. In most cases, you won't have to reveal your sealed record to potential employers.

Crimes That May Be Expunged

Expungement can happen only where certain crimes are involved. In particular:

  • If you were arrested but were never convicted, your case wasn't disposed of within 18 months of your arrest, and there are no criminal proceedings against you.
  • If you were 18 or older and were convicted of certain alcohol-related offenses, and you're over 21 and have completed your sentence in its entirety.
  • If you resolved your case through an ARD (Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition) program, provided the charge against you wasn't a sex crime against a minor.
  • Certain minor offenses that occurred at least five years ago, or other offenses if you are over 70 years of age and the conviction is at least ten years old.
  • Crimes where you have received a pardon from the Governor.
  • Certain juvenile offenses.

Records That May Be Sealed

Like expungement, sealing has limitations and won't be available in every situation. Crimes where sealing may be appropriate include:

  • Misdemeanors more than ten years old, provided you haven't committed any disqualifying offenses.
  • Records of a criminal arrest where there was no conviction.
  • Records of charges that were filed against you where you were found not guilty.
  • Nonviolent convictions that are more than ten years old.
  • Misdemeanor convictions where you served less than two years in prison.

Why Bother?

You might be resigned to the belief that your criminal past, even if it is relatively minor, is going to follow you around for the rest of your life and may wonder why you should go to the trouble of expunging your conviction or sealing your record. While each person's situation is different, there may be some real benefits to pursuing either course.

If your record is expunged, it may open up educational, employment, and community opportunities to you that your conviction may have foreclosed. And while felony convictions can't generally be expunged, they usually can be if you've received a Governor's pardon.

Sealing can also make it easier for you to get a job and to rent or own property. While your conviction is still “on the books” in Pennsylvania, it ordinarily won't be disclosed to private parties running background checks for business purposes.

LLF Law Firm Can Help You Decide

The LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team have years of experience helping clients in Pennsylvania understand their options when it comes to having their criminal records expunged or sealed. We will help you evaluate your situation and decide which option may be available for you and how you can benefit if your record is expunged or sealed.

If you have decided that it's time to leave your past arrests or convictions behind you, call LLF Law Firm today at 888.535.3686, or reach out to the LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team by using this online link to schedule a confidential consultation. It's never too late to start the day with a clean slate, and we are here to help you make that happen if you qualify.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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The LLF Law Firm Team has decades of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the LLF Law Firm today! Our Criminal Defense Team will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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