Record sealing is a practice in which criminal records, court records, or other legal records are placed under seal so that they are not a matter of public record. In order to access the record, someone would need to obtain a court order, and this can only be done when it is possible to demonstrate a need to view the record. A closely related concept is expungement, in which records are not just sealed, but are actually destroyed so that they cannot be viewed.
Once someone's record is sealed, in some regions of the world, it may be permissible to state that one does not have a criminal record, and to treat the records as though they do not exist. In other regions, people must disclose that they have a record, but it is sealed. This can be to someone's disadvantage, as people may worry that there is something damaging in the record and the sealed record could become an obstacle to employment or other things. People should think carefully before record sealing and check on the prevailing laws in their area to determine whether or not it will be a problem.
To seal a record, the matter covered by the record must be concluded, and commonly there is a waiting period. Someone convicted of assault, for example, couldn't ask that the record be served immediately; a period of probation would have to be served, followed by a waiting period. Some reasons to seal a record include a desire to conceal the identity of someone's birth parent, to close a juvenile record so that youthful activities cannot be held against someone, to protect trade secrets, or to protect a witness. Record sealing can only be ordered by a judge.
People must file an application to seal, and if the application is granted, their records will be sealed. Lawyers who specialize in record sealing can offer assistance with this, and people can also retain a lawyer with more general legal experience. People may be asked to argue why it is important that their records be sealed, while in other cases, sealing is granted as long as the application meets the standards.
Record sealing is not expunging, although in some regions, when a record is sealed, it may also be expunged. When records are expunged, they are treated as though they did not exist. Expungement is often used for things like minor traffic offenses, to clear someone's record so that misdemeanors do not become obstacles later in life. When records are expunged, people are not obligated to disclose what was in their court records or even that they have a court record on things like employment applications.