Skip to main content

What is the difference between seal and expungement?

Daytona Beach, FL |

I know the expungement is to delete a specific record somehow but I don't knew what seal means.

Attorney Answers 6

  1. Best answer

    A sealed record can still be accessed with a court order. In my jurisdiction, they're placed in an envelope & literally sealed with tape (at the clerk's office.) An expunged record is physically destroyed (shredded). Both sealed & expunged records are hidden from PUBLIC view, so for example your next door neighbor can't look them up online or at the clerk's office. (Law enforcement -cops, probation officers, prosecutors- always have access to the fact that there was a prior arrest through your NCIC.) FDLE has an excellent seal/expunge department. The employees in that section are very knowledgeable & accessible. I've called them many times & they've always been happy to assist me.

    The comments herein do not establish an attorney/client relationship.

  2. expunge means to erase the record. seal means to block access to the record.

  3. Seal keeps it away from the eyes of most, such as landlords, employers, etc.

    The attorney's responses to questions are for general purposes only and do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For a free consultation, contact Aktas Law, P.A. at 954-332-2412 or at

  4. Sealing and expunging are two terms that are used interchangeably, but have very important legal distinctions. Sealing allows the criminal file to be sealed from public view. Exungement allows for the criminal file to be physically destroyed. While sealing and expunging a file is predicated on the outcome of the criminal case, both allow the client to reach their ultimate goal of preventing others from accessing their prior arrest.


    Sealing a case means that the criminal file is sealed in an envelope and not accessible to public. An individual is eligible to have only one of their prior cases sealed if they received a withhold of adjudication on that case and has never been adjudicated guilty on any other case. Thus, sealing a case is differentiated from an expungment because in a sealing, the defendant pleas guilty or no contest in the case and receives a withhold of adjudication. In an expungment, the defendant never enters a plea, rather he has the charges either dismissed or has a jury find the defendant not guilty (see expungment).

    Therefore, if an individual pled guilty or no contest to a burglary charge in 2010 and received a withhold of adjudication, and later on in 2012 also pled guilty or no contest to a possession of marijuana charge and received a withhold of adjudication, that individual would be able to select which one of the two cases he would want sealed. If however, he was adjudicated guilty of the burglary, but received a withhold of adjudication on the possession of cannabis, he would not be eligible to have either case sealed because of the prior adjudication.

    Once a case is sealed, an individual does not have to disclose the fact that he was ever arrested or charged with that specific offense, but for a few exceptions. In the previous example, if the individual was received a withhold of adjudication on both the burglary and the possession of cannabis case, and elected to seal the burglary, he would not have to disclose that he was arrested for the burglary, but would have to disclose his arrest for the possession of cannabis.

    One important caveat is that not all crimes can be sealed. Certain crimes, mostly dealing with sex crimes, are not eligible for sealing.


    Expunging a case means that the criminal file is destroyed. An individual can expunge a case under any of the following two scenarios:

    1. The State Attorney’s Office decided not to file formal charges against you after you were arrested; or
    2. The State Attorney’s Office filed formal charges against you, but dismissed them before trial.

    Thus, sealing deals with individuals who have pled no contest or guilty to an offense and received a withhold of adjudication, whereas, expungement deals with individuals who had their case either no billed (not formally filed) by the state or dropped before trial.

    One important caveat is that not all crimes can be expunged. Certain crimes, mostly dealing with sex crimes, are not eligible for expungement.

    Expungment is usually the preferable route to have your case removed from public viewing because the file is physically destroyed. However, in some scenarios, sealing a file might be the client’s only option.

  5. Everyone has provided very helpful answers. Here is the link to FDLE's seal and expunge page.
    Good luck!

  6. I agree with my colleagues except that in most cases you have to have a sealing for 10 years before you can ally for an expungement.

Criminal defense topics

Top tips from attorneys

What others are asking

Can't find what you're looking for?

Post a free question on our public forum.

Ask a Question

- or -

Search for lawyers by reviews and ratings.

Find a Lawyer

Browse all legal topics