A minor mistake can result in a criminal record. Having your record sealed or expunged can protect your livelihood, reputation, and family.
When you’ve been convicted of a crime in Florida, no matter how big or small, it turns your life upside down. And even if it is a minor crime that you think will fade in time, in Florida, this is often not the case. Arrests and convictions are public records that anyone can access, which can make it difficult for you to get a job, travel, or rent an apartment. It can even affect your relationships.
However, there are some instances in which expungement or sealing of criminal records is possible. If your record is sealed, it will not be accessible to the public. However, government agencies will be able to access it. But if your record is expunged, it can only be viewed by someone with a court order, including government agencies.
What Is Sealing or Expungement?
Sealing or expunging is the process used to eliminate or destroy access to criminal history records. These processes have the same results when it comes to applying for jobs, housing, or travel – virtually no one can view them, so it’s unlikely you will face negative consequence from having a criminal incident on your record. However, there are some differences between the two processes.
Expungement of Records
Expungement of a criminal record means that the record, or a portion of it, is physically destroyed by all criminal justice agencies that have a copy of it, or in accordance with any instructions given by the court giving the order for expungement. The records must be retained so that they can be evaluated if you have additional requests for sealing or expungement, or so that they can be recreated if the order to expunge is vacated.
Sealing of Records
If your criminal record is sealed, that means that the record is preserved, but it is inaccessible to any person who does not have a legal right to view it. This means that the record cannot be viewed by the general public, including your employer or landlord. The record remains intact, and is only accessible with a warrant.
What Is the Process for Sealing and Expungement in Florida?
Clearing your record can be a complicated process, so it is a good idea to check into lawyers who specialize in expungement and find one to represent you. Small errors in your petition could make it so you have to start the process over, which can delay the process for months or even years.
The first step in getting your record sealed or expunged is to file an application for a certificate of eligibility from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. You will need to submit a certified copy of the final disposition of your case and your fingerprints along with the application.
Once you’ve filed your request, the agency will decide whether or not to grant your request for a certificate of eligibility. Once you have your certificate, you must file your petition to seal or expunge with the court that handled the case initially and give a copy to the police department who performed the arrest, whether city, county, or state. You must also give a copy to the state attorney or prosecutor.
If your petition is granted, you record will be sealed or expunged. In most circumstances, you won’t be required to disclose your record. You can see that the process is long and complicated, so hiring an expungement lawyer in South Florida gives you the best chance of a good result.
Exceptions to Non-Disclosure of Criminal Record Sealing or Expungement
There are several exceptions to the non-disclosure protections offered by the seal and expunge process. These exceptions include:
- If you are applying for a job with a law enforcement agency.
- If you want to be admitted to the Florida Bar.
- If you are a defendant in a criminal proceeding.
- If you are seeking employment with any agency or department that deals with children, people with disabilities, or the elderly.
- If you want to buy a firearm from a licensed dealer, manufacturer, or importer.
- If you want to apply for a concealed carry license.
- If you want to be appointed as a guardian.
How to Qualify for Expungement in Florida
Anyone who is arrested and fingerprinted has a criminal record, even if the charges were dropped or dismissed. And these records are public unless they are sealed or expunged. The requirements for records to be sealed or expunged in Florida include:
- If you have ever been CONVICTED of any crime, misdemeanor or felony, you CANNOT seal or expunge any record.
- You must have never had a record sealed or expunged previously in Florida or any other state.
- You can request only one record be sealed or expunged per petition. The court can decide to seal or expunge more than one record if the arrests are related, but this action is at the court’s discretion.
- A record that is initially ineligible for expungement must be sealed for ten years before it may be eligible for expungement.
- You must wait ten years for the record to be sealed before you can petition for its expungement.
- You can seal or expunge only one arrest record per lifetime.
- A charge that yielded a not guilty verdict after a trial cannot be expunged unless it has been sealed for ten years.
- You cannot petition for a criminal offense to be expunged if you are still under court supervision for the alleged criminal offense.
How To Get Your Records Sealed in Florida
Getting your record sealed is the first step towards having it expunged. If you were not convicted or judged guilty of a crime, you are eligible to petition the court to have your record sealed. To do so, you must meet the following conditions:
- If you have ever been CONVICTED of any crime, misdemeanor or felony, you CANNOT seal or expunge any record.You must not have already had a criminal record sealed or expunged.
- You must not have another petition pending to seal or expunge a criminal record.
- Criminal records for offenses such as homicide, kidnapping, arson, and some sex offenses can never be sealed or expunged.
If you meet all these conditions, you may be eligible for criminal record expungement. Contact an expungement lawyer in Florida to find out more about the process and if you are a candidate.
Benefits of Sealing and Expunging Your Criminal History Record
If you have a criminal history record, you don’t have to “just live with it.” You may be able to have your record sealed or expunged.
- Your criminal record will be protected from public view
- Your employer won’t have to know that you have a record
- Colleges and universities won’t be able to see your record
- You won’t have to disclose your arrest to your employer
- The charge won’t show up on background checks
- Your reputation will be protected
- You will have closure and peace of mind
A simple mistake can result in your having a criminal record, even if you aren’t guilty. By having your record sealed or expunged, you can protect your livelihood, your reputation, and your family.