Have you made some bad decisions in the past that resulted in an arrest or conviction? If you have been in trouble with the law, you may have run across the term “expungement.” To expunge means to erase. In law, expungement is the legal process of destroying or sealing the record of a criminal conviction. A criminal record can follow you and cause problems in many areas of your life. It is particularly a problem in circumstances in which a Florida criminal background check is needed, such as employment, housing, or professional licensing.
A criminal history record begins when a person is arrested and fingerprinted. The conclusion of the case may include an adjudication of guilt or the withholding of adjudication. It may also conclude with an acquittal, dismissal of charges before trial, or other disposition. Even if the court dismissed your case, or you are found not guilty at trial, your name will still show up in criminal record searches, background checks, and other public searches. These records are available to the public unless they have been sealed or expunged.
The rules for expunging or sealing up a criminal record in Florida are complex. If you have a criminal record, an experienced attorney at Meldon Law can explain your legal options and help you obtain the best possible outcome.
What Is an Expungement?
Each state has its own laws about expungement. The laws determine what records qualify for expungement, the procedures for an expungement, and rules concerning the management of expunged records. Expungement is common in juvenile cases, but many states, including Florida, also allow adult defendants to obtain an expungement.
Florida statutes provide that you may be able to request that your criminal record be expunged or sealed so that in most cases, the general public won’t be able to see it. It is a way for individuals to have their criminal record made non-public. The two forms of expungement are a record expungement and a record sealing. The two forms are similar in that you can lawfully deny the existence of the arrests covered by the expunged record, and the case generally will not appear on background checks, although there are some exceptions. The two forms are also similar in that the public cannot access your file.
The law requires physical destruction of the files of expunged cases. Florida Department of Law Enforcement keeps a copy, but it is not available to the public. However, “sealing” a record is just what it sounds like. When you have your case sealed, the authorities seal all files with tape, but they do not destroy them. The documents remain on file, but the record is kept confidential.
Another important difference between the two forms is the requirements to qualify for each.
Qualifications for Expungement or Sealing
To determine if you qualify, your attorney needs to know the charges and the resolution of each of your cases. If you are unsure about the facts and location of your arrests, do not guess. You, or your attorney, can run an F.D.L.E criminal history on yourself to obtain the necessary information.
If you have had a criminal record sealed or expunged in the past, even in another state, you will not qualify. You will also not qualify if you have a pending petition to seal or expunge a criminal record. It is possible to be found guilty of criminal charges, but not convicted. In that case, you may qualify to have your record sealed even if you pled guilty, no contest, or were found guilty of a criminal charge.
If your charges were dismissed, you might think that you can honestly say you do not have a criminal record. However, you may still have a criminal record even in the absence of a conviction. An arrest results in a record, which is noted on a database and may show up on some background checks. After you have appeared in court, there is a criminal record that includes the arraignment, charges, and any subsequent court appearances.
To qualify for an expungement, you must not have any prior convictions, and the charges have to be dismissed. A dismissal means that either you were acquitted at trial, or the prosecutor dropped the case, or the judge granted a motion to dismiss. If you have a sealed case dating back for ten years or more, you might qualify for expungement.
To qualify for a seal, you can have “pled guilty, no contest, or even have been found guilty at trial as long as adjudication was withheld.” Some offenses do not qualify, such as violent crimes or terrorism.
Expungement is available for someone who has been “contrary to law or by mistake.” This applies to a minor or an adult who is arrested by mistake, or who has been arrested contrary to the law by either a law enforcement agency or by final order of the court. In such a situation, the individual is eligible for an administrative expunction.
The criminal record of a minor may also be eligible for other forms of expungement.
What Is the Expungement Procedure?
A person who wants to have his or her record expunged must first apply to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) for a Certificate of Eligibility. The certificate is not a guarantee that the record will be sealed or expunged. It just means the individual is eligible. Granting the petition for sealing or expungement is within the sole discretion of the court.
There is no definite time frame for the proceedings, although there are factors that may affect the pace. There are several agencies involved in this process. Therefore, do not wait until you have a pressing need before you begin. An expungement usually takes more time than a sealing. For an expungement, the state attorney must sign off on the disposition of your case. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement must issue the required certificate of eligibility. These steps may take several months, depending on their caseload. Even if you have completed the initial steps, the timetable for your final petition depends on the schedules of the court and the judge.
Before the granting of your petition, you should obtain and keep a copy of all the documents, including the arrest report, certified disposition, order to seal or expunge, etc. for your personal records. Release of an expunged record to anyone, including you, requires a court order.
The Benefits of Expungement
There are many benefits to an expungement, including:
- The records are destroyed,
- You can deny the arrest ever happened,
- The law provides penalties for disclosure by government agencies,
- If you currently have a professional license or certificate, the expungement permits you to retain these credentials.
Generally, an expungement allows you to deny your criminal conviction on a job application. However, there are exceptions to this benefit. These mainly apply to employers of businesses that deal with children, the elderly, or the physically or mentally handicapped, including nursing homes and daycare centers.
Even if you have obtained an expungement, you cannot deny your prior arrest:
- If you are seeking employment in which you would deal directly with minor children, the mentally or physically disabled, or the elderly, including a nursing home or daycare center,
- If you are applying for employment with the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Department of Education, the Department of Children and Family Services, any local governmental unit in charge of licensing child care facilities, any district school board, or any schools, including charter schools, parochial schools, private schools, and universities,
- If you are applying for employment work at a criminal justice agency,
- If you are seeking employment at or access to a seaport,
- You may be denied admission to the Florida Bar, or your admission process will be longer and more complicated than normal.
Other Issues Related to a Florida Expungement
Florida residents are only allowed to petition to seal or expunge a record one time. Even with an expungement, there are other possible consequences. For example, there may be restrictions on your right to own firearms, your immigration rights may be affected, and your record may still affect a suspension or revocation of your driving privileges.
How Meldon Law’s Fort Lauderdale Expungement Lawyers Can Help
Sealing or expunging your criminal arrest record can help you move on with your life. However, record clearing proceedings are complicated. An experienced, compassionate attorney can review your case and advise you of your legal options. For more information or a free consultation, call (954) 334-1276 or contact us online.
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Founder of the Meldon Law FirmEmail Jeffrey Meldon
Fort Lauderdale Office
1 East Broward Blvd #730
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
Phone: (954) 334-1276