Should You Expunge or Seal Your Criminal Record? Which is Better?

If you’re kicking around the idea of clearing your criminal record in Illinois, you’ve probably heard that you have two options: Expungement and sealing.

But which is better? Should you expunge your record or seal it? This guide explains each so you can make the right decision.


Should You Expunge or Seal Your Criminal Record? Which is Better?

Expungement and sealing both follow similar processes. The bottom line is that you’re asking a judge to erase or seal off all or part of your criminal record so that people can’t see it any more – but the outcome of expungement is different from the outcome of sealing. 

What Happens With Expungement?

Expungement erases your criminal record forever. It’s like nothing ever happened. If a judge approves your expungement petition, the agencies that have your criminal record are court-ordered to destroy it or return it to you. They will no longer have a copy of your criminal record, which means that there’s nothing for anyone to see in a background check.

Related: What is a conviction for expungement purposes?

What Happens With Sealing?

When you seal your criminal record, it still exists. The agencies that have it keep copies – but they don’t share the information with just anyone. Only law enforcement professionals, those working in the criminal justice system (in an official capacity), and some employers – such as those that run fingerprint-based background checks – will be able to see your record. 

How to Decide Between Expungement and Sealing

Usually, you don’t get to decide between expungement and sealing. The contents of your criminal record make the decision for you. You can’t expunge most convictions – but you can seal them. Generally speaking, you can only expunge things like arrests and charges that never resulted in a conviction (though there are some exceptions – especially for honorably discharged veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces). 

You can seal many convictions, but you can’t expunge or seal those that are related to violent crimes or sex crimes.

Related: Can you seal an aggravated assault conviction in Illinois?

If you have a record that’s eligible for expungement or sealing, such as arrests with no convictions, you may decide to go ahead and expunge it. Either way, you can get rid of those records through sealing or expungement. It’s probably a good idea to talk to an expungement attorney about your options and what’s right for you.

Do You Need to Talk to a Lawyer About Expunging or Sealing Your Criminal Record?

If you need to speak with an attorney about clearing your criminal record, we may be able to help you. Call us at 847-920-4540 now or fill out the form below for a free consultation.

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