Overview of Florida Criminal Record Expunctions
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In Florida, it is sometimes possible to have criminal records sealed - removed from regular access – or expunged – removed from the records system entirely. Totally erasing any physical record of a criminal offense is not possible in Florida, but expunction – called "expungement" in most other states – may be beneficial to you.
You may wonder why you have a criminal record history at all if the charges against you were already dismissed. The reason is that criminal records are considered public information for most purposes and in most states, including Florida. A record is created the moment you are arrested and fingerprinted, and the record will always include information on how that arrest ultimately ended, i.e. – in conviction, acquittal, dismissal of all relevant charges, etc. To remove this record from public access, you must have your criminal records "sealed" or "expunged."
The main difference between sealing and expunction is the level of access to the criminal record at issue. Sealed records can still be accessed by a few government entities, including those involved with applying for state licenses or certain job types. But expunged records can only be accessed with a specific court order. Without this order, the most anyone would ever see is a letter stating that your record was expunged. Expunged criminal records may be reviewed in certain situations by court order when you apply for a job in law enforcement or a license, working with children, elderly, or admission to the Florida Bar.
To seal or expunge your criminal record, you must meet certain basic criteria: (1) no prior criminal convictions (includes criminal traffic offenses such as a DUI, reckless driving); (2) no pleas of "guilty "or "no contest" to any offenses; (3) no prior criminal record expunctions or sealings; and (4) not currently under court supervision (probation, house arrest, community control).
There is also a long list in the Florida Statutes of specific charges that are usually not eligible for sealing or expunction. If you were charged or arrested for one of those offenses, and you were either found not guilty at trial, or the charges were later dropped, then you may become eligible to have the record history of that offense sealed (and later expunged). However, some criminal matters simply cannot be sealed or expunged. You are out of luck if you took a plea or were found guilty of drug trafficking, child sex offenses, voyeurism, arson, aggravated assault, manslaughter, murder, car jacking, kidnapping, etc.
Florida also allows for administrative expunction of criminal records in those situations where someone has been wrongly arrested due to mistaken identity or identity theft. These types of expunctions are complicated and take more time to complete.
Whether you want your record sealed or expunged, the process has several steps, starting first by requesting a Certificate of Eligibility to seal or expunge your record with the Clerk of the Court in the county you were convicted in or from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). Applications can be found at your county's court clerk office in the criminal division. After submitting your request, the FDLE will research your case and either grant your request to issue your Certificate of Eligibility, or deny the request altogether. If your request is granted and you have your Certificate of Eligibility, your next step is to prepare and submit the actual petition to seal or expunge your criminal history record to the court. Then, after serving the State Attorney with a copy of the petition, all that's left is for the judge to make the final decision to expunge or seal. If your petition is approved, then you can lawfully deny not only the conviction but even having been arrested in the first place.
Though this tool can be very useful for those who are eligible, there are many caveats and exceptions to it. Aside from the continued access that government entities will have to the record, there are also exceptions to eligibility for applying for the sealing/expunction. They are discussed in greater detail in the section below on Process. One of the main criteria for eligibility is that only one record may be sealed or expunged at a time. If the court is still considering any charges against you for that arrest, then you will be denied expunction until 10 years after the record is completed and effectively sealed. Then the record will be eligible to restart the process. Additionally, your record is ineligible for sealing or expunction if you have ever been found guilty of any other criminal offense in any jurisdiction.
The Florida Statutes on expunctions can be found at s.943.0585 - s.943.059.
For more articles on Florida expunctions, click on the following: