What Are the Differences Between Record Sealing, Pardons, and Expungements?

Like most states, Georgia has laws in place that give certain convicted criminals the opportunity to erase, reverse, or seal their records. Three different options exist depending on the situation and the individual’s goals for his or her case: record sealing, pardon, and expungement. Each involves a different legal process with very different outcomes for the individuals. Learn the definitions of each, qualifications for court approval, and which might be right for your unique situation by reading below.


A criminal conviction on your record can significantly interfere with your life. While the best-case scenario might be to receive a pardon, this isn’t always possible. Getting your record sealed, however, can come with many of the same benefits. Requesting that the courts seal your record does not mean the record reverses or your conviction disappears. Instead, it means that while the criminal record still exists in a legal sense, the public cannot see or access your record. Only law enforcement officers, criminal investigators, and some employers can see a sealed record.

Generally, Georgians with arrests but no convictions are eligible for sealing of their arrest records. If the courts dropped or dismissed the charges against you, or a jury finds you not guilty, you can request that the courts seal your arrest record. If the courts did convict you of a crime, you could still be eligible for record sealing if you were a first-time drug possession offender or other first-time offender. The courts may agree to seal or restrict your record as a first-time offender if you complete probation and do not receive a subsequent arrest or conviction.


A criminal pardon is an order of official forgiveness of a felony from the state of Georgia attached to a criminal record. The government may approve a pardon if the individual can demonstrate that he or she has paid his/her debt to society after completion of his/her sentence. While it does not expunge, remove, or erase the crime from your record, it may serve as a means for a petitioner to advance in employment or education.

In many cases, defendants strive for appeals rather than pardons. If a pardon is right for you, however, you must wait at least five years after you complete your sentence to apply. Rare exceptions to the five-year requirement do exist. You must exhibit to the courts that you’ve maintained a positive reputation in your community and completed your sentence. A pardon officially forgives the crime the courts convicted you of, making it easier to find housing and employment.


You’ll find that many sources use the terms “sealing” and “ expungement ” interchangeably. Note, however, that Georgia law provides two separate definitions for these actions. While a sealed record still legally exists, an expunged record “deletes” the record, restricting it from public view; expunged records are only accessible to law enforcement for criminal justice purposes. An expungement is not the same as a pardon, however – pardons can occur after convictions, while those who evade convictions are generally the only ones that qualify for record expungement. With an expunged record, it will be as though your arrest never happened.

You might be eligible for record expungement in Georgia if you’ve waited long enough after the conclusion of your case to apply, you don’t have any new arrests or convictions, you have no or minor prior criminal history, you’ve completed your sentence, and the courts don’t convict you of disqualifying crimes. Serious felony arrests are rarely eligible for record expungement.

Contact a Savannah defense attorney to find out which type of record action might be suitable in your particular case, as well as what steps you need to take to achieve record sealing, pardon, or expungement. Our criminal defense lawyers are knowledgeable on both sides of the courtroom and can help you make the most informed decisions regarding your legal situation.