In the state of Florida, many times it's possible for criminal history records to be sealed or expunged. Once a record is sealed or expunged, it no longer needs to be disclosed under most circumstances.
What It Means To Seal or Expunge a Criminal Record
In Florida, having a record expunged and record sealing are two different processes with two very different meanings. However, once a record is sealed or expunged, you may legally deny or fail to acknowledge your prior record in certain cases like when potential employers or loan officers conduct background checks as stated in Florida Statutes §§ 943.0585, 943.059 (2018).
After a criminal history is sealed, the general public will no longer have access to the record. According to Florida law, only certain government agencies will be able to view sealed information.
If a court grants for your record to be expunged, it will be physically destroyed by criminal justice agencies, except the Florida Department of Law Enforcement will retain a copy. That copy is kept confidential and can only be viewed by court order. In most cases, it's treated as though the incident never happened. After a record has been expunged, any entity that would have access to a sealed record will see only this response when searching for your criminal record: "Criminal History Record Expunged Pursuant to Florida Statutes 943." Referencing Florida Statutes § 943.0585 (2018).
Why You Want To Seal of Expunge Your Criminal Record
Having a criminal record can make it difficult to find a new job, apply for an apartment, or obtain a professional license. Once the record has been expunged or sealed, there's no longer a need to acknowledge the record on any paperwork that's being filed.
Who Is Eligible to Have Their Criminal Record Sealed or Expunged?
The rules for having a record sealed or expunged are fairly strict. One may petition to have a criminal record sealed if they were not convicted of a crime or if adjudication of guilt has been withheld. This process can only be done for one crime, and may not be used to dissolve multiple incidents. Criminal records related to any of more serious offenses like arson, homicide, kidnapping, and certain sex offenses can never be sealed.
Expungement is typically only available in cases where no charges were filed, charges were dismissed, or when the criminal record you want to be expunged has already been sealed for ten years. Much like record sealing, Florida law states a range of specific crimes that will not allow for expungement. You cannot have your record expunged or sealed if you have been found guilty of any felony or of child abuse.
How to Make It Happen
Once you're sure you qualify for expunction, you need to obtain a certificate of eligibility to petition the court to change the status of your record. Section A of the petition must be filled out and signed by a notary public. Next, you'll need to have fingerprints taken by authorized law personnel (this can be done at any police station) and will need to submit the fingerprint card with the application. You'll also need to visit the Clerk of the Court in the county where the charges happened in order to get a certified copy of the disposition of the case you are trying to have sealed or expunged. If you were once on probation for the case, a certified copy of the termination of probation is necessary as well. Once this has all been gathered, the final step is to include a money order or cashier's check for $75 in order to cover the court fees.
There's no requirement or rule that states you must have an attorney in order to have a record expunged or sealed. However, the paperwork and steps involved along the way can be difficult to navigate. Having an attorney on your side that is well-versed in the process can make a world of difference. Consider contacting an attorney with the right knowledge to guide you through these steps.
Getting Criminal Records Expunged in Florida. (n.d.). Retrieved September 12, 2018, from https://www.myfloridalaw.com/criminal-defense/getting-records-expunged-florida/
FDLE - Frequently Asked Questions. (n.d.). Retrieved September 12, 2018, from http://www.fdle.state.fl.us/Seal-and-Expunge-Process/Frequently-Asked-Questions#Sealed_vs_Expunged