There are differences between the two within the procedure to get them done and the result.
Differences: When You Can Expunge A Criminal Record
You can expunge any criminal record of an arrest that has been dropped. This means it resulted in a:
- No Information;
- No Bill;
- Nolle Prosequi, or;
- the court dismissed the charges;
- you were found not guilty at trial.
When You Must First Seal A Criminal Record
You must first seal your record if the arrest record that you want to remove was not dropped but:
- resulted in the court withholding the adjudication of guilt and
- the offense is not prohibited by statute.
The Differences Between Sealed and Expunged Records
From your standpoint there are practically no differences between sealing a record or expunging a record. You receive the same benefits.
Some exceptions are when purchasing a firearm and what entitled entities are allowed to know. A person with a sealed record must disclose the arrest if asked when purchasing a firearm. People with expunged records may lawfully deny the arrest in that situation.
Entitled entities will see the date of arrest and the charge when doing their Level 1 or Level 2 background screening if your record was sealed. They will only see the date of arrest if the record was expunged.
When It Is Expunged
When a record has been expunged the order requires that the Office of the State Attorney, the arresting agency, and the Sheriff’s Office physically destroy their actual files. The order to destroy also includes digital information (such as computer records). Identifying information such as fingerprints or DNA is excluded from this destruction.
When It Is Sealed
When a record is ordered to be sealed those same agencies do not have to destroy anything. However, they must make those records confidential and not disseminate them to anyone. The fear of legal liability usually has most of those agencies removing your record from their digital databases. Moreover, physical records of cases kept by these agencies are regularly destroyed, regardless of any court orders, due to constraints on their capacity to keep so many records.
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