Can Background Checks See Sealed Records?

By Michael Klazema on 2/26/2019

If you are a person who has had a criminal record sealed or expunged, you may be wondering whether a criminal background check will be able to uncover details of the record(s) in question. Can a background check see sealed records? What about crimes that have been wiped out by expungement?

Before we go any further, let’s make a distinction between sealed records and expunged records. In both cases, you must petition the court to reconsider part or all of your criminal record. In both cases, the outcome is to improve your ability to get a job, continue your education, sign a lease, or otherwise move on with your life. The goal, in other words, is to make it so those records don’t show up on a criminal background check.

There is a difference in how criminal records are handled in expungement cases versus cases in which the records are sealed. “Expunge” means “to erase,” which is essentially what happens when the court grants a petition for expungement. Criminal records that have been expunged are deleted and destroyed, to the point at which there is no remaining file of those records at relevant courts or repositories. Sealed records still “exist” but are not reported on background checks. They can be accessed by court order but are no longer part of the public record.

Due to these factors, a background check that looks for records at a specific court house, should not be able to retrieve sealed or expunged records. In many states, it is actually illegal for employers to make hiring decisions based on records that have been expunged or sealed. Since many courts and agencies do NOT proactively inform the public of expungements, a person may obtain a court order expunging or sealing a record but that order may never be received by the criminal record database companies, who are a source of criminal record information to many of the background screening companies in the US. 

If an employer, school, or landlord is using these sources, they may find a criminal record that is supposed to be sealed or expunged. Employers, however, are required to provide their candidates notice of their intent to make an adverse decision on records they find this way and give the candidate the ability to dispute such records.

The good news is that there is a way to ensure that sealed records stay sealed and expunged records stay expunged. At, we have a partnership with an organization called The Foundation for Continuing Justice. If you have recently petitioned successfully to have a past charge or conviction sealed or expunged, we can help you get that criminal record removed from hundreds of databases and sources.

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