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When Public Records Go Private: An Overview

Public records have been a staple of American life for centuries, and most people didn’t have much of a problem knowing some of their information was available to the public. However, the rise of the Internet has made it significantly easier to look up the records of others, which means one’s past can follow them for decades. This easier access to public records has made more people consider sealing certain pieces of information. While the process varies by state and situation, this can be a strong alternative for people who want privacy. Keep reading to learn more about the record sealing process.

What Is Record Sealing?

Record sealing ensures that people won’t have access to your information unless they have a court order, or the records might not show up at all. It takes previously public information and withholds it except in extreme cases. Whenever someone is considering hiring you for a job, renting an apartment to you, or even dating you, they’re likely to check local public records to make sure you don’t have a background that could make the decision risky. Depending on your background, you might not want others to see what is out there.

One common reason for sealed records is criminal activity. If you have an arrest, then it likely can be found through public records. For example, a person might have made a mistake in his youth and stolen a car with his friends because of peer pressure. This person would never steal a car today and regrets the fact that his records follow him wherever he goes. Employers and insurers are often wary when they see someone has “Grand Theft Auto,” in their public records. To prevent this, the person would have the records sealed because they are part of his past and not reflective of who he is today.

What Kinds of Records Are Sealed?

While the previous examples focused on criminal activity, there are a variety of different record types that are sealed. This is why the definition is so broad. In most cases, citizens can choose to have their information removed from the public record to fill their privacy rights. Some companies can also have records sealed if they contain information that could benefit competitors. For example, a few common reasons to have records sealed include:

  • Birth records so that adoptive parents can’t identify birth parents.
  • Divorce settlements that high-profile couples want to keep out of the public eye.
  • Civil settlements that people or businesses don’t want the public or other lawyers to have access to.
  • Trade secrets by companies that could ruin a business in the wrong hands.

Sealing documents doesn’t necessarily mean a person or company has something to hide. Often it means people want their privacy respected or don’t want potentially sensitive information to become public.

How Can You Check Your Public Records?

If you’re curious about what information is available and accessable about you and your personal life, it’s easy to check your public records. You can start by accessing your local and state government records to see if they have public records based on your name. You can also run a background check on yourself to see what comes up when you apply for a job or home.

If you’re looking for a fast and affordable way to review your personal records, consider using CheckThem’s public records search tool. This is a quick way to see what kind of footprint you have so you can start the process of tracking and sealing your records.

How Do You Know if You Qualify to Have Your Records Sealed?

The process and qualifications to seal your records can vary by state and by the crime. Some states allow you to petition to have a record sealed and get approval easily, while other require permission from a judge in certain circumstances. However, there are a few general guidelines you can follow to determine whether you meet the requirements for sealed records.

  • For juvenile offenses, you can seal your records if you are older than 18 or if five years have passed since the offense.
  • For adult offenses, you can typically seal your records if you only have one offense or multiple offenses from one case. This shows that you made a mistake once and aren’t know to offend repeatedly or break other laws.
  • Felonies, crimes against children, and sex offenses rarely qualify for sealed records. However, some felonies can be dropped to misdemeanors.

While this provides a general overview for sealing your records criminally, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Many states have a variety of legal requirements for sealing your records because the information would be of significant value to the public.

How Do State Record Applications Vary?

There are multiple factors in place that determine the likelihood of having your records sealed and the pace which the approval process follows. This is why it’s important to research records on the state and local level if you want your records sealed. A few differences by state include:

  • Time: Many states have time limits for sealing records. Either a certain amount of time must have passed, or applicants might wait several years for approval.
  • Verdict: Some states limit record sealing to not-guilty verdicts in the name of public interest.
  • Severity: Different crimes and their levels of severity can or cannot be sealed depending on the location.

Even if you think your records can’t be sealed, you can check at the state level for any exceptions. Reading the guidelines and laws fully can help you know your rights.

Not everyone who wants to seal their records committed a crime or has something to hide. In fact, many people choose to seal their records simply because they legally can. Others don’t want to be defined by their birth records, divorce history, or juvenile mistakes. If you’re thinking about sealing your records, start by researching what records are available and then take steps to see which ones qualify to be sealed.