It seems like you can't go a week without hearing a story about a "Florida Man" who committed some kind of ridiculous crime. It's not just Floridians that make these mistakes, but Florida is one of few states with "proud open government laws" where criminal records are public. This makes it incredibly easy for reporters, future employers, and even potential dating prospects to find your record without even conducting a background check. Luckily, we also have the ability to request the sealing or expungement of your criminal record. When a record is sealed or expunged it can't be found by the public or in routine background checks that may be done by a new job or a bank when you're trying to get a loan for a car or a house.
Florida Law Section 943.053 states, "Florida Statutes (F.S.), makes adult criminal history records public, with special provisions for access, unless the record has been sealed or expunged. The records may include arrests, charges and case dispositions. A sealed record is placed under highly restricted access. An expunged record is removed from record systems or files and destroyed (also called expunction)."
Keep in mind that not every kind of charge can be sealed or expunged - violent crimes and murder charges will never be wiped from your record, but those less serious bad choices you made like that misdemeanor theft in college or possession of marijuana shouldn't hold you back in life. You can read more about what can and can't be sealed or expunged in my previous blog post.
Here are four reasons to consider looking into having your criminal record sealed or expunged:
1. A criminal record can hold you back from getting a job you deserve
Most employers will conduct a background check during the hiring process. Many companies have policies in place that can stop you from being hired if you have any kind of criminal record. Even if they don't have a policy in place, your criminal record could be the deciding factor if they are trying to pick between two equally qualified candidates.
2. A criminal record can stop you from signing the lease on your dream home
Looking for a new apartment or home to live in? Homeowners Associations and even private landlords usually conduct background checks on new tenants. While your criminal past may have been just a one-time incident and shouldn't be a factor in your ability to pay your rent on time, a record can very well be the reason you're held back from getting that approval.
3. A criminal record can result in being denied for loans
Your credit score isn't the only thing that banks are looking at when you apply for a loan. A background check is part of the process as well. Having even a small blip on your record and result in being denied or charged extra high interest.
4. It can ruin your chances at adopting a child
Did you know that in 15 states you're unable to adopt a child if you have a criminal record? In the state of Florida, if you have a criminal charge in the last five years, you're unable to foster or adopt a child. Crimes that involve minors typically cannot be sealed, but there is a long list of crimes that can be.
Having your record sealed is a lengthy process that involves a good amount of paperwork. Having an attorney who has experience with the proper steps for sealing a record can make the entire ordeal much smoother. Please remember it's takes time, sometimes even months. According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, July 2018 applications are currently being processed a full 8 months later, so if you're considering applying for a new job, loan, apartment, family member, or more - there's no better time than now to get a start on sealing your record.
Munzenrieder, K. (2016, April 02). How Florida's Proud Open Government Laws Lead to the Shame of "Florida Man" News Stories. Retrieved from https://www.miaminewtimes.com/news/how-floridas-proud-open-government-laws-lead-to-the-shame-of-florida-man-news-stories-7608595
Criminal Background Checks for Adoption by State. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://adoptionnetwork.com/criminal-background-checks-for-adoption-by-state
FDLE - Seal and Expunge Home. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.fdle.state.fl.us/seal-and-expunge-process/seal-and-expunge-home.aspx