Can a Sealed Record Be Used Against You?

Cover image for an article on tenant rights, posing the question 'Can a sealed record be used against you?' with a visual of a hand holding a stamp over legal documents, symbolizing the authority and consequences of sealed records.

Navigating life with a sealed record often leads to the question: “Can a sealed record be used against you?” It’s a valid concern for anyone who has taken steps to seal their criminal history, hoping for a fresh start. This detailed exploration aims to shed light on the nuances of sealed records and the specific scenarios where they might still influence your life, despite being hidden from the general public’s eyes.

Understanding Sealed Records

Before diving into the implications of a sealed record, it’s crucial to understand what it means for a record to be sealed versus expunged. This distinction is key to grasping the potential impacts on your life.

Sealed vs. Expunged Records: What’s the Difference?

Sealed Records

Informational graphic explaining the characteristics of sealed records, including limited visibility, restricted access by law enforcement and certain employers, variable time and costs, and privacy implications.

  • Visibility: Sealed records are hidden from the general public, making it seem as if the offense has been cleared.
  • Access: Despite being hidden, sealed records can still be accessed under specific conditions, primarily by law enforcement and certain employers.
  • Time and Costs: Sealing your records is generally less costly and time-consuming than expungement, but it can still take time and cost based on offense type, location, and other factors. It is important to keep this in mind!
  • Implications: A sealed record means that your past offenses are not openly available, offering a level of privacy. However, it does not completely erase your history.

Expunged Records

Infographic detailing the benefits of expunged records, highlighting complete erasure, no public access, offering a clean slate, and the time and cost involved in the legal expungement process.

  • Erasure: Expunged records are completely erased, as if the offense never occurred.
  • Public Access: There is no public access to expunged records because, legally, the offense is treated as if it never happened.
  • Benefits: Expungement offers a clean slate, with no trace of the offense in public or private records, providing the most comprehensive form of relief from a past criminal record.
  • Time and Cost: Expungement can be a lengthy process and often requires a consultation with an attorney. There might also be fees associated with expunging your record or with hiring an attorney to represent you in the matter. 

The Impact of Sealed Records

Illustrative graphic showing the impacts of a sealed record on employment, legal situations, licensing, and housing, with icons for job search, legal scrutiny, certification, and financial transactions.

It is crucial to understand that sealed records are not visible to the general public but can still be accessed by certain parties under specific conditions. For example, sealed records might show up on a background check. While you enjoy a degree of privacy and freedom from your past, there are scenarios where a sealed record can come to light and potentially impact your life.

Who Can Access Sealed Records?

  • Law Enforcement Agencies: Police departments, federal agencies, and other law enforcement entities can access sealed records for various purposes, including during new criminal investigations or when you’re applying for certain types of licenses.
  • Certain Employers: While most employers will not have access to sealed records, those in sensitive fields—such as education, healthcare, law enforcement, and positions requiring a security clearance—may be able to view your sealed history during the hiring process.
  • Court Officials: In legal proceedings, judges and court officials may access sealed records to inform decisions on bail, sentencing, or other judicial matters.Illustrative diagram showing entities with access to sealed records: law enforcement agencies, certain employers, and court officials, represented by simple icons.

Can a Sealed Record Impact Your Life?

Employment Opportunities

  • Sensitive Positions: While most employers will not have access to sealed records, those applying for jobs in sensitive fields such as law enforcement, healthcare, and education might find their sealed records scrutinized.
  • Background Checks: Some convictions, even if sealed, may still appear on background checks conducted by specific employers, potentially affecting job prospects.

Legal Situations

  • Future Legal Cases: If you’re involved in future legal proceedings, a sealed record can be used by the court to inform sentencing or bail decisions.
  • Law Enforcement Access: Law enforcement agencies have access to sealed records, which can influence their interactions with individuals who have a sealed history.

Licensing and Certifications

  • Professional Licenses: Certain professions that require state licensing may have the authority to review sealed records as part of the application process2.
  • Impact on Career: Having a sealed record can potentially limit career advancement in fields that require a clean criminal history.

Housing and Loans

  • Rental Applications: While most landlords do not have access to sealed records, large property management companies might have resources to conduct deeper background checks.
  • Loan Approvals: Financial institutions may not directly access sealed records, but a sealed record’s existence could indirectly affect loan approval through its impact on employment and income stability.

Protecting Your Rights

If you discover that your sealed record is impacting your life negatively, there are steps you can take:

Can a Sealed Record Be Used Against You?


While sealing a record offers a level of privacy and a fresh start, it’s clear that “Can a sealed record be used against you?” is an important question to consider. Sealed records impact certain aspects of life, particularly in employment, legal situations, and when applying for licenses or certifications. Being aware of these potential challenges allows people to navigate their future better and seek appropriate legal advice when necessary.

The information contained in this post is for informational purposes only. It is not legal advice and is provided as is without any guarantee of accuracy. If you need a professional legal opinion, click here to send in your legal request.

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