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Record sealing is the practice of sealing or, in some cases, destroying court records that would otherwise be publicly accessible as public records. The term is derived from the tradition of placing a seal on specified files or documents that prevents anyone from reviewing the files without receiving a court order. The modern process and requirements to seal a record and the protections it provides vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and even between civil and criminal cases.
Generally, record sealing can be defined as the process of removing from general review the records pertaining to a court case. However, the records may not completely disappear and may still be reviewed under limited circumstances; in most instances, it requires a court order to unseal records once they are sealed. In the United States, some states order records to be destroyed after they are sealed. Once a record is sealed, in some states, the contents are legally considered never to have occurred and are not acknowledged by the state.
The public policy of record sealing balances the desire to free named citizens from the burdens caused by the information contained in state records while maintaining the state's interest in the preservation of records that may be beneficial to the state or other citizens.
In many cases, if you seal your record, you gain the legal right to deny or fail to acknowledge anything to do with the arrest and the legal proceedings from the case itself.
Records are commonly sealed in a number of situations:
- Sealed birth records (usually for so-called closed adoption, in which the birthparents' identity is usually anonymous)
- Juvenile criminal records may be sealed
- Other types of cases involving juveniles may be sealed, anonymized, or pseudonymized ("impounded"); e.g., child sex offense or custody cases
- Cases using witness protection information may be partly sealed
- Cases involving trade secrets
- Cases involving state secrets
Filing under Seal in Court
Normally, records should not be filed under seal without a court permission. However, FRCP 5.2 requires that sensitive text – like Social Security number, Taxpayer Identification Number, birthday, bank accounts, and children’s names – should be redacted off the filings made with the court and accompanying exhibits. A person making a redacted filing can file an unredacted copy under seal, or the Court can choose to order later that an additional filing be made under seal without redaction. Alternately, the filing party may ask the court’s permission to file some exhibits completely under seal.
When the document is filed "under seal", it should have a clear indication for the court clerk to file it separately – most often by stamping words "Filed Under Seal" on the bottom of each page. Person making filing should also provide instructions to the court clerk that the document needs to be filed "under seal". Courts often have specific requirements to these filings in their Local Rules.
Current Ongoing Litigation
A Delaware background check corporation by the name of IntegraScan has filed for Declaratory Relief in both the states of Texas and New Jersey. The position of IntegraScan is that state mandated record sealing and expungements do not apply to private corporations, only state and Federal run agencies. The contention of the suits are that record sealing and expungement orders applied to corporations and private citizens violate First Amendment rights.
- Mathew K. Higbee, Esq. "Legal Terminology in Record Clearing". Higbee & Associates. Retrieved 2007-09-22.
- Paul J. Adras, Esq. "Why seal your record?". Retrieved 2009-12-28.
- "2011 California Rules of Court".
- "FRCP Rule 5.2. Privacy Protection For Filings Made with the Court".
- IntegraScan Expungement Guide