Unfortunately, events can happen in life that lead to a person having a criminal record. In the State of Florida, criminal records are public record, making the information accessible to anyone who is interested in seeking out the information. Criminal records can also interfere with your ability to find employment, rent housing, and your personal relationships. Having your criminal record sealed or expunged can result in this information no longer being public record, being discoverable in a background check, and may even allow you to legally deny the record ever existed.
What is the difference between having a record sealed or expunged, and are you eligible for either option?
To have a criminal record, you would have first been arrested for a criminal offense. Civil traffic infractions like speeding tickets are not criminal and not eligible to be sealed or expunged. After the arrest, there are a few possible ways the case was resolved: the State may have not filed charges or dropped the case, filed charges but later dropped them (referred to as nolle prosequi), dismissed the case, or a disposition of guilty or not guilty was found. If you were found guilty but adjudication was withheld, this means that the court refrained from actually convicting you of the charge. If you were adjudicated guilty then that is an actual conviction for the crime.
Before you are eligible to have a criminal record sealed or expunged, you must qualify. To qualify, you must have:
1. No prior sealing or expungement
2. Not been adjudicated guilty of this criminal charge
3. Not been adjudicated guilty of any criminal charge in your life in any state
4. Some criminal charges are not eligible to be sealed or expunged
If you meet the criteria above and the criminal case was dropped, dismissed, or you were found not guilty then the record may be expunged. If you were found guilty but adjudication was withheld then the record would need to be sealed for at least ten years before it could later be expunged. If you were adjudicated guilty, or if you have ever been adjudicated guilty for any other crime at any other point in time, then you are not eligible for either sealing or expungement. If you have ever previously sealed or expunged a criminal record in Florida then you are also not eligible to seal or expunge another criminal record, although there may be exceptions for the prior sealing or expungements for a juvenile offense, victims of human trafficking, or charges dropped or dismissed based on self-defense. There are some criminal offenses that are not eligible to be sealed per Florida Statute, including some sexual offenses, trafficking or manufacturing controlled substances, aggravated assault or aggravated battery, abuse of a child or the elderly, kidnapping, homicide, robbery, burglary of a dwelling, stalking, domestic violence, or acts of terrorism.
If a criminal record is expunged, the State Attorney’s Office, the Clerk of Court, the local law enforcement agency that made the arrest, and the local sheriff’s office physically destroy all records of your arrest except for fingerprints and DNA that was obtained. If a criminal record is sealed, the physical records are not destroyed but are made confidential. Private companies will usually also comply with removing their records if they are provided with a copy of the court order sealing or expunging the record. Once a criminal record is either sealed or expunged, you may deny that it ever existed and you do not have to disclose it, with some exceptions, most notably for employment purposes with some state or government agencies or companies that involve working with children, the elderly, individuals with disabilities, or being in any type of caregiver capacity to others.