If you have been arrested for or convicted of a criminal offense in Florida, a criminal defense lawyer may be able to assist you in having your record sealed or expunged. Florida law specifies the criteria that must be met in order to have a record sealed or expunged. If you are eligible, having your record sealed or expunged will benefit you because your record is then confidential and would not be disclosed during routine background checks often conducted by potential employers and creditors. You should note, however, that there are several limitations on the confidentiality of sealed or expunged records. For example, even if your record is sealed or expunged, you may not deny or fail to acknowledge the prior record in any future criminal proceeding or if you are applying for employment with certain Federal or state agencies. In addition, a copy of your record will still be maintained by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and subject to review by law enforcement.
What type of records may be sealed or expunged?
Most people understand that if they have been convicted after a trial, pled guilty or pled no contest to any crime, that information becomes part of the public record. What most people do not grasp is that even if you were arrested but the charges against you were later dropped, the fact of your arrest and the nature of the charges also become part of the public domain. This is true even if you were found not guilty after a trial. If you qualify, all such records may be sealed or expunged.
What is the difference between having a record sealed and expunged?
A sealed record is not available to the public but certain government agencies still have access to the information. If a record is expunged, access to the record is limited even further and the entities that would have access to a sealed record would require a court order to access the record.
What is the procedure to have a record sealed or expunged?
A person seeking to have a criminal history record sealed or expunged in Florida must first apply to the FDLE for a Certificate of Eligibility. You may obtain a package for this application from the Clerk of Courts for your county. You may also download an expunge/seal package from the FDLE website (link here). Before doing this, you may want to obtain a copy of your criminal history record to review it for accuracy. You may challenge any information contained in your record which is inaccurate or incomplete. FDLE will then review your application and determine whether you meet the statutory criteria. If FDLE determines your record is eligible to be sealed or expunged, you will receive an approval letter from FDLE. NOTE: This approval DOES NOT seal or expunge your record. It merely is evidence that your record meets the statutory criteria. You must still file a petition in court in the county where you were arrested and the petition must be granted by the court.
What would keep my record from being sealed or expunged?
As a general starting point, you are eligible if you have never been adjudicated guilty of any offense as an adult and have not previously had your record sealed or expunged. There are additional rules governing juvenile records. You must also not currently be under any form of court supervision (probation, pretrial release). There are several other circumstances which may make you ineligible. For example, Florida law states that certain offenses are not eligible for sealing or expunging. You should discuss the specific facts of your case with an experienced criminal defense lawyer to determine whether your case is eligible.