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Many people try to forget about their case when it is resolved. They may not realize, however, that although the charges themselves are dropped, the record of their arrest will remain public unless it is sealed or expunged. In certain circumstances, it is even possible to seal a criminal conviction.  

The terms expungement and sealing are often used interchangeably. Though they generally refer to the same process, expungement usually refers to the sealing of records in Maryland, while sealing is the term employed by the D.C. Code. 

In D.C. a motion to seal can generally be filed on three separate grounds. 

  • Actual Innocence 
  • Interest of Justice 
  • Decriminalization 

Actual Innocence 

A motion to seal for Actual Innocence is granted when the Judge determines that you were actually innocent of the offense for which you were arrested/charged or that the offense for which you were arrested/charged did not occur. D.C. Code §16-802. This type of sealing is the most difficult to obtain because it is the defendant’s burden to show that he or she is factually innocent of the offense for which they were arrested or charged. The defendant can meet the burden by presenting evidence, such as affidavits of witnesses or judicial findings to prove their innocence. A motion to seal based on Actual Innocence may be filed immediately upon the closing of a case. 

Interest of Justice  

A defendant may also file a motion to seal on the grounds that sealing is in the Interest of Justice. D.C. Code § 16-803. A person may be eligible to have their records sealed in the Interest of Justice if they were not found guilty, they did not plead guilty, and a designated waiting period has passed since the conclusion of the case. The length of the waiting period differs depending on the charge, the disposition of the case, and the individual’s past criminal record. 


As of April 23, 2015, the D.C. Code included a provision allowing the sealing of a criminal arrest, charge, or conviction for the possession of marijuana or paraphernalia. D.C. Code §16-803.02 (2015). A person may be eligible to seal a possession of marijuana or paraphernalia record if the arrest was not made in connection with any other criminal code violation and if the arrest did not result in any federal charges. D.C. Code §16-803(1)(A)(i-ii). Unfortunately, this means that a person may not be eligible for an expungement under the D.C. Code if the police claim, for example, that the person was also smoking marijuana in a public place or that the individual possessed marijuana with the intent to distribute.