A criminal record can follow you for your entire lifetime and may negatively impact everything – from employment and school opportunities to housing, parenting time with minor children and travel abroad. If you have a criminal record, it is definitely in your best interest to try to get it sealed or expunged. The State of Florida allows individuals with criminal records to apply for getting their record expunged or sealed, but the process can be difficult, and not everyone qualifies for consideration.
In this blog post, I am going to answer some general questions about sealing and expunging criminal records and explain the process for getting your record cleared. For more detailed information about the process specific to your case, please call my law firm at 407-894-4555 or submit the “Tell Us What Happened” form on the firm’s website. I have over twenty years of experience as an attorney and am dedicated to protecting individual’s rights and helping them get their Florida criminal record cleared.
What Is the Difference between Sealing and Expunging a Criminal Record?
If your goal is to “clear” your criminal record, you need to understand the difference between the two potential options in Florida — sealing and expunging a criminal record. Although both options are similar, there is one important difference.
When a record is sealed or expunged, the general public will not have access to the record. That means a potential employer or landlord will not see the record if they run a criminal background check on you. A sealed criminal record, however, remains available in its entirety to law enforcement agencies, courts, and other government agencies listed in section 943.059(4)(a), Florida Statutes.
When a criminal record has been expunged, most of the entities and agencies that would have access to a sealed criminal record will not have access to the record. Instead, they will see a message indicating that a record was expunged without additional information.
Whether you are attempting to seal or expunge your criminal history, it is crucial to understand where you stand legally after the record is sealed or expunged. Specifically, you need to know if you may lawfully deny or fail to acknowledge the sealed or expunged arrest. In most cases you can do so; however, there are important exceptions to that general rule.
Types of Sealing or Expungement in Florida
There are several ways in which your criminal record might qualify to be sealed or expunged in Florida. The procedure for sealing or expunging your record will depend on why the record qualifies for sealing or expungement.
- Administrative Expungement. An administrative expungement can be used for an adult or juvenile arrest made contrary to law or by mistake. This does not mean you were lawfully arrested but ultimately found not guilty. It applies when there was no legal authority to arrest you in the first place and/or you were arrested by mistake.
- Court-Ordered Sealing or Expungement. To be eligible for a court ordered sealing or expungement, you must meet the eligibility requirements, including but not limited to:
- You cannot have been adjudicated guilty in Florida of a criminal offense, or been adjudicated delinquent (as a juvenile) in Florida for committing any felony or certain misdemeanors unless the record of delinquency was expunged.
- The criminal offense is not one found in section 943.0584, Florida Statutes.
- You cannot have had a record sealed or expunged in the past.
- Juvenile Diversion Expungement. If you completed an authorized juvenile diversion program for a misdemeanor, you may qualify for this type of expungement.
- Lawful Self-Defense Expungement. If the charges were never filed, or were dismissed, and the prosecutor agrees that you acted in lawful self-defense, you may have your record expunged.
- Human Trafficking Expungement. If you were the victim of human trafficking and the arrest was related to the human trafficking scheme, you may be eligible to have the arrest expunged.
- Automatic Juvenile Expungement. Many juvenile criminal records are automatically expunged as a matter of law when the defendant reaches the age of 21.
- Early Juvenile Expungement. If you are at least 18 but not yet 21 years old, you may apply to have your juvenile record expunged early if you were not charged with or found to have committed any criminal offense (including the one that you are seeking to expunge) within the preceding 5 years.
- Automatic Sealing. Certain criminal records are automatically sealed by court order. These generally apply when charges were never filed, charges were filed but then dismissed, or you were found not guilty.
How Do I Clear My Florida Criminal Record – What Is the Process?
The precise steps necessary to clear your Florida criminal record will depend on why the record potentially qualifies for sealing or expungement. However, the most common include:
1. Apply to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) for a Certificate of Eligibility. This is only a necessary first step. This does not guarantee that your petition will be granted by the court. To apply you will need to:
- Obtain a written certified statement from the state attorney or prosecutor, if required.
- Obtain a certified copy of the applicable disposition, successful completion of probation, or completion of a diversion program.
- Have your fingerprints taken by an approved law enforcement agency.
- Pay the applicable fee
2. Petition the appropriate court. A formal petition must be filed with the court and the court must approve the petition.
3. Make sure the court order is received by FDLE. Until FDLE receives a certified court order, the arrest will remain on your record. It is always wise to check with FDLE to verify that the record has been sealed or expunged.
Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney
The laws and procedures applicable to sealing or expunging a criminal record in Florida are complex and often confusing. An experienced Florida defense attorney can help you understand the process and guide you through it.
If you want to clear your Florida criminal record, contact experienced criminal defense attorney Jonathan Rose today by calling 407-894-4555 or filling out the “Tell Us What Happened” form on our website.