Florida Juvenile Laws: When Are Records Sealed Or Expunged?

Most people think that a juvenile's criminal record will automatically be sealed or expunged so that it won't follow them into their adult lives. However, that's not always true, according to Lindsay Grogley, a Florida attorney with the Umansky Law Firm. She explained what those terms mean and how they work in reality.

Sealing & expunging records

Sealings and expungements are two separate processes, but you end up with the same result, according to Grogley. She explained what the terms mean:

  • Sealing. A sealing is used after you plead out to a case. So you can go in and plead guilty in no context and in some circumstances still be eligible to seal your case.
  • Expungement. An expungement is a process that you go through. For example, if you get arrested and your case was dropped, the state attorney’s office may have decided not to go forward with the charges because there may have not been enough evidence. That will land you in the place that you will be eligible for an expunction or expungement. We use the word expungement, but it’s more of a slang word. Really, expunction is the term that should be used.

She says that the only difference between a sealing and an expungement is that a sealing basically staples up the court file and it cannot be accessed without a court order. She told us, “For all practical purposes, it’s taken out of all systems. After ten years, you’re eligible to have it destroyed or expunged.”

Records never taken out of the federal system

Sealed and expunged records may be taken out of state systems; however, they are never taken out of the federal system, according to Grogley, who said that anyone with federal clearance can do a federal background check and those records will appear. She explained:

We tell our clients that after your record is sealed or expunged that you can legally deny this ever happened. However, if you are looking for federal clearance, then you have to disclose it as it will be discovered.

Most people are eligible to have their records sealed if they've never had anything sealed or expunged before. Adults receive what’s called a withhold of adjudication. Juveniles receive what's called a withhold of delinquency. There are a few who can be an adjudicated delinquent and still receive the ability to seal or expunge an adult record, but you have to be very careful.

That’s where Grogley sees hiring a juvenile lawyer as so important. She told us that gets adult clients every day that can’t seal or expunge their record based on something they did when they were younger – simply because nobody really advised them.