The words “expunged” and “sealed” often are used interchangeably. A ”sealed” record means that the record is hidden from the general public. An “expunged” record means that the record has been destroyed. In most states, arrests and convictions for serious, violent felonies usually cannot be expunged or sealed.
Each state has its own rules and laws for expungement, and some states label expungement as “expunction,” “removal,” or “destruction” (of criminal records.) But the record may not completely disappear and may be available to law enforcement and the federal government. In most states, for adults, arrest and conviction records are not automatically expunged or sealed after a period of years. For juveniles, court and arrest records are sealed automatically once the juvenile is arrested and a trial or “adjudication” begins.
The rules and laws for the sealing of criminal records also vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In most instances, a court order to unseal a record is required. Some states order the records to be destroyed after they have been sealed. Further, once a record is sealed, in certain states, the contents/crime are legally considered never to have occurred and are not acknowledged by the state.
In most states, but with some exceptions, after a record is sealed or expunged, the subject may truthfully state that he/she has never been arrested, charged, or accused of a crime. However, as noted above, the federal government does not have to honor an expungement and an expungement of a conviction does not relieve a person from having to disclose it on an application for public office or on certain professional license applications.