If you have a criminal record which has been sealed and are wondering whether it will show up someone runs a background check on you, don’t fret. In this article, we will explain exactly what happens to your criminal record once it has been sealed and recommend the best background checking sites to see for yourself what comes up.
It is possible for convicted offenders to apply to a court to have their criminal record either expunged or sealed. What’s more, it is quite common for offenders who are looking to make a fresh start to do just this. Depending on the nature of the crime, and whether they fulfill all the necessary requirements, many have a good chance of succeeding.
But even if their application is successful, a lot of people are still unsure whether a background check will be able to reveal their criminal past, even when charges were dismissed. In this article, we are going to tell you everything you need to know about sealed records and what information remains in the public domain. We will also advise you how to check your own records to see what can still be found.
What is a sealed record?
A sealed record is a criminal record which a court has ordered to be sealed. This means that, while the record still technically exists, it is no longer part of public record. In theory, a sealed criminal record can only be accessed with a court order
Getting a criminal record sealed is a fairly simple process. There are a number of different requirements that you will have to meet and these can vary depending on what state the crime was committed in.
Typically, the sort of requirements that all states will look for include things like:
- Have served your sentence and any probationary period you were given
- Have no subsequent criminal proceeds or arrests against your name
- Have waited for the required period of time
- Have limited prior charges (“three strikes”) is still in place in some states
If you are thinking to have a criminal record sealed, it is advisable to check the requirements in the relevant state closely to make sure you fulfill all their criteria. It is not a bad idea to seek the advice of a lawyer too.
If you do decide to proceed, the next step will be to submit an application to the relevant court. You will then have to wait for them to reach a decision.
What is the difference between sealing and expunging a criminal record?
You may also have read about the possibility of getting a criminal record expunged and be wondering what the difference is.
Expungement is when the record is removed from your file completely and destroyed. There is no mark left against your name and no record exists for a background check to find. That means neither employers nor even the U.S. Army can access those records.
A sealed record is slightly different because the record itself does remain. However, that record is removed from the public archives, and can only be accessed with the court’s permission. Even advanced background checks won’t be able to peek into these files.
The process of applying to get a criminal record expunged is much the same as getting one sealed. The requirements will vary depending on which state the crime was committed and you have to make an application.
It is difficult to say whether you have a better chance of getting a criminal record sealed or expunged. Different courts and judges will have different views. If you are unsure which to apply for, the best thing to do is ask a lawyer for advice.
Do you need to get your record sealed or expunged
Before going through the process of getting your criminal record sealed or expunged, it is worth checking whether you need to.
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), if you were arrested or charged with a misdemeanor, but not convicted, your record must be wiped clean after seven years.
In some states, there are also laws which prevent background checking sites from looking back for more than so many years. In Texas, for example, there is a seven year rule preventing background checking companies from reporting dismissed charges. Other states with similar rules include California, Colorado, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, and Washington.
Also, if your criminal record dates back far enough, you could just chance it. Some background checking sites will only look so far back, so it is possible they will not find your record even if it is still there.
If you want to find out whether your record will show up on a background check, whether it has been sealed, expunged, or not, our best advice is to run one on yourself to see.
Best background checking services for checking your criminal record
We have tested all the leading background checking sites to see which offer the most comprehensive criminal background checking service. The results are in and our top three recommendations are:
BeenVerified was the most impressive background checking site we tested, especially when it comes to digging up criminal records. BeenVerified delivered accurate results and they delivered them fast. For the most comprehensive results, we would recommend signing up to their premium package for an extra $9.95 per month. This is on top of their basic subscription price of $26.89 per month or you can choose to pay $17.48 per month for a three-month subscription. While this might sound a lot, BeenVerified actually offers excellent value for money.
Their background reports are comprehensive, accurate, and easy to read. They have a fantastically easy-to-use desktop dashboard and great apps for iOS and Android devices too. Their criminal record checks identified every record we tested them on. They even send researchers to local courthouses and record offices in person to look through physical files and ensure nothing is missed. With great customer support, if you have any problems too, they really were the standout background checking site.
TruthFinder is another background checking site which performed very impressively. They have a two-tier pricing structure, with a one-month subscription starting at $27.78 or you can opt to pay $23.02 for two months. Their basic package offers a full criminal record check which should return such information as sex offender registers, driving records, and data about known relatives.
If you pay a little more for their premium package, you will get every record there is. TruthFinder is impressively detailed and their results are delivered in well designed and easy-to-read reports. There is 24/7 customer support available on a toll-free number too. This means if you do have any issues, TruthFinder will help you day or night.
3. Instant CheckMate
Instant CheckMate was the other background checking site that we were particularly impressed with. Their comprehensive reports were among the very quickest of all the sites we tested. They are well-laid out and really easy to follow too which we were impressed by.
Instant Checkmate’s comprehensive criminal records searches will dig out complete criminal records as well as things like as sex offender registers, marriage and divorce records, details of relatives, address history, and social media records.
Their prices start at $34.78 per month, but if you choose a three-month subscription you can pay just $27.82 per month. This is a little higher than some other sites but given the speed and quality of their results, it still offers good value for money.
Does a sealed record appear on a background check?
If you do succeed in getting your criminal record sealed, that should mean that it no longer appears in a background check.
This is because sealed records can only be accessed with a specific court order. These are only likely to be given in extreme cases, such as if you are a suspect or arrested in relation to another offense.
The offense is removed from public record and this is what background checks look at. They will never seek a court order to access records and even if they did, it is highly unlikely they would be granted one.
If you want to be sure your record is clean before applying for a job, the best way to check is to run a background check yourself using one of the sites we have recommended above.
Are there other ways a sealed criminal record could be discovered?
Unfortunately, the answer to this question is yes. Even though an offense has been removed from the public record, there are still other ways that someone could find out about them.
If your offense was high profile enough to attract media attention, the chances are that those reports can still be found online. A simple Google search could be enough although if the offense was long enough ago or you have a fairly common name, you might be afforded some protection through anonymity.
In some parts of the world, there are now ‘right-to-be-forgotten’ laws that require search engines like Google to remove content of this nature if you ask them to. Unfortunately, in the USA, there are no such laws, although some states such as New York have come pretty close.
It is worth seeing what the law is like where you are based. It is also worth contacting Google to ask the question too. There are other mechanisms they have in place that you might be able to use to either remove search results or push them down the Google rankings.
Social media could also reveal a prior criminal record too. Most employers these days do look at social media accounts before hiring so it is worth going through your accounts and ensuring any reference to an offense are either deleted or hidden from public view.
RELATED READING: How to run a national criminal background check online
Sealing your criminal record is another way of removing it from public files. The record is not removed completely but it is sealed and can only be accessed with the express permission of the court. A background check should therefore not reveal any sealed records. But it is worth checking before you apply for any job which is why we have recommended the best background checking sites to use.
Have you got any sealed records? Have you run a background check on yourself to see if it appears? It shouldn’t, but mistakes can happen. Is there anything we have missed in this article? Do you have any tips for our readers? We always welcome feedback and comments from our readers to help inform others, so why not share your own experiences with us using the comment box below?