Sealing vs. Expungement: Colorado Criminal Records

Struggling with the burden of a previous arrest or criminal conviction? You’re far from alone. In Colorado, thousands grapple with the weight of a criminal record. At Path Forward Legal, we often get asked if there is a way to expunge or seal a criminal record. There is, but there is a difference between sealing and expunging criminal records.

Sealing a record can make your past virtually invisible to the public eye, while expungement can erase it as if it never existed. If you’re looking for help, it’s important to know what to ask for. We’ll cover both in this article.

What is Sealing a Criminal Record?

Sealing a criminal record in Colorado means that the record is hidden from public view, including employee background checks. A “rap sheet” run when you are looking for a job will show a clean record, with no evidence of prior arrest or conviction.

However, it’s important to know that law enforcement agencies and prosecution entities still have access to these records. Immigration and travel authorities may also be able to see the records if you cross a border or are applying for a visa.

Eligibility for Sealing

In Colorado, adults can apply to have their criminal arrest record sealed under specific conditions:

  • No charges were filed, and the investigation is over.
  • Charges were dropped.
  • They were officially told they were not guilty (acquitted).
  • They successfully completed diversion.

Arrest records and conviction records can be sealed in a few conditions, too:

  • A successful completion of a deferred judgment.
  • Time passing after certain convictions, if other requirements are met.
  • Crimes that happened while being human trafficked.

Records That Cannot Be Sealed

In Colorado, certain types of convictions are not eligible for sealing. These include:

  • Traffic Misdemeanors: Class 1 or Class 2 misdemeanor traffic offenses and Class A or Class B traffic infractions.
  • DUI/DWAI: Convictions related to driving under the influence or driving while ability impaired.
  • Sexual Offenses: Any offense involving unlawful sexual behavior.
  • Child Abuse: Convictions related to child abuse.
  • Aggravated Crimes: Crimes involving extraordinary aggravating circumstances, extraordinary risk, or crimes against pregnant victims.
  • Domestic Violence: Convictions involving domestic violence.
  • Violent Crimes: Any crime of violence.
  • High-Level Felonies: Class 1, 2, or 3 felonies or level 1 drug felonies.
  • Forgery: Offenses related to forgery.
  • Human Trafficking: Convictions related to human trafficking.

Additionally, a conviction cannot be sealed if you still owe restitution payments, fines, or other court costs.

Effect of Subsequent Convictions on Sealing Criminal Records

If you get into legal trouble again after a previous conviction, it can significantly impact your ability to seal the earlier conviction. According to Colorado Revised Statutes Section 24-72-706, one of the conditions for sealing a conviction is that the defendant must not have been convicted of a new offense since the date of the final disposition of all proceedings against them or their release from supervision, whichever is later.

In simpler terms, if you are convicted of a new offense, you will generally be ineligible to seal your previous conviction(s) until you meet the time requirements for the new conviction and have no further legal issues during that period.

Here’s how it could affect you:

  • Resetting the Clock: A new conviction essentially resets the waiting period you must go through before you can apply to seal the previous conviction.
  • Increased Scrutiny: Having multiple convictions could make the court more hesitant to grant a sealing request, if it’s a case where the court gets the final say.
  • Ineligibility: Some types of new convictions could make you permanently ineligible to seal your previous conviction, especially if the new conviction is for a type of crime that cannot be sealed.

It’s crucial to consult with a legal expert to understand how a new conviction could impact your ability to seal a previous one, as laws and interpretations can vary.

Applying to Seal Criminal Records

In Colorado, adults can use the simplified sealing process to have their criminal records sealed under specific conditions:

  • If the criminal case was dismissed or acquitted, you can fill out and file a JDF 477 form (Petition to Seal Non-Convictions).
  • If you were convicted, you can fill out and file a JDF 612 form (Petition to Seal Criminal Convictions) and multiple proposed orders.
  • The Colorado court filing fee for sealing a record is $65.

The Process

The record sealing process typically involves multiple steps:

  1. Obtaining copies of past police reports.
  2. Filing a petition with the court.
  3. Paying the filing fee.
  4. Attending the hearing and answering questions from the Court, if applicable.
  5. Ensuring that the sealing order is sent to CBI and other agencies.

The last step is missed by some, and it’s the most important one. Sometimes there is a mix-up in the court clerk’s office, and the final sealing order doesn’t get sent to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. In addition, the CBI requires payment to seal your arrest record.

A good attorney will run your criminal history and show you a clean sheet before closing your sealing case as “done.” If you are doing it yourself, don’t forget this crucial step.

Once a record is sealed, you can legally deny ever having been arrested or convicted of the crime, though there are some rare exceptions. This includes if you are applying for a job in law enforcement or other licensed, regulated profession.

What is Expunging a Criminal Record?

In Colorado, expungement is only permitted for juvenile offenses and underage impaired driving convictions. Expunging a criminal record goes beyond sealing: it involves the complete destruction of the records.

Eligibility for Expunging

In Colorado, you cannot expunge an adult arrest or conviction. You can usually expunge your juvenile records if the following conditions are met:

  • You have not been adjudicated for or convicted of any felony or misdemeanor involving domestic violence, unlawful sexual behavior, or possession of a weapon.
  • There are no pending felony, misdemeanor, or delinquency actions against you.
  • You have paid all court-ordered restitution or are currently on a restitution repayment agreement.

The Process

To expunge a juvenile record, you have to request a court hearing. If the court grants the expungement, the records are completely destroyed.

When records are expunged, you may lose access to them forever. However, immigration and travel authorities may still have access to the records. It’s vital to keep a copy of your records in case you need them in the future.

Key Differences Between Sealing and Expunging

EligibilityAdultsJuveniles only
AccessibilityHidden from public view but accessible by certain government agenciesCompletely erased
Legal StatusThe record still existsThe record is destroyed, and the event is considered to have never occurred

Automatic Sealing of Arrest Records After 2022

Starting from January 1, 2022, Colorado law has introduced provisions for the automatic sealing of certain arrest records. According to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI):

  • For arrests on or after January 1, 2022, the CBI will automatically seal your arrest record if no criminal charges have been filed within one year of the arrest. The CBI must do seal the record within 60 days of the year passing since the arrest date.

This is a significant update, as it reduces the burden on individuals to go through the legal process for sealing their arrest records when no charges have been filed.


Understanding the difference between sealing and expunging a criminal record in Colorado is crucial for anyone looking to move past a criminal history. While sealing is an option for adults under specific conditions, expunging is reserved solely for juvenile cases.

If you’re considering either of these options, it’s highly recommended to consult with a legal expert to navigate the complexities of Colorado law. Your path forward is much clearer when you’re well-informed.