Florida Expungement – The Who, What, When, Where, Why & How
Florida Expungement: The “Who”
A common preliminary question I am often asked is: do I have a criminal record? And the answer is…if you have ever been arrested in Florida you have a Florida criminal record. It doesn’t matter if you were never even prosecuted or the court dismissed the charges, what matters is the actual arrest. And that arrest is public information, unless you elect to have it sealed or expunged.
Many people also wonder if it makes a difference whether you want to seal or expunge a felony charge or a misdemeanor charge. And the answer is…no! The Florida statutes provide a list of eligibility requirements a person must meet in order to have a record expunged or sealed, but the statutes do not differentiate between felonies and misdemeanors. There are certain “prohibited offenses” that are not eligible for Florida expungement or record sealing, but if your charge is not on this list, then the same process applies to both misdemeanor and felony cases.
Florida Expungement: The “What”
When a record is expunged in Florida, it means that the record is physically destroyed. However, one copy of every expunged record is kept with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). While the FDLE can reveal the existence of an expunged record under certain limited circumstances, it cannot reveal what is in that record.
Sealing a record means that the record is kept, but put under highly restricted access. Sealed records are generally not available to the public.
Florida Expungement: The “When”
In terms of Florida expungement procedure, it doesn’t really matter when you decide to begin the record sealing or expungement process. In practical terms, however, sooner is better than later. Waiting potentially has serious consequences that could affect your job, education, housing and financial prospects.
Florida Expungement: The “Where”
You must seal or expunge your record in the county of your arrest. Usually the entire process can be completed via email and mail, without the need for in-person office visits or court appearances. Some counties, however, still routinely hold final Florida expungement hearings, in which case you would have to appear in court.
Florida Expungement: The “Why”
There are many benefits to having a clear past. Once a record is sealed or expunged, you can lawfully deny its existence and answer truthfully on employment, housing, school, scholarship, and loan applications that you don’t have a criminal history or have never been arrested (under most circumstances). This can create a lot more opportunities for you in the future. Also, you will gain peace of mind from knowing that one past mistake won’t continue to haunt you indefinitely.
Florida Expungement: The “How”
The Florida expungement and record sealing process is governed by statute. In a nutshell, you must first read the various statutes to determine if you meet the eligibility requirements, (and keep in mind you must meet different requirements in order to expunge a record versus seal a record), learn the correct procedures, and determine if you fall under any exceptions. Then you have to apply for and obtain a Certificate of Eligibility from the FDLE. If denied, you may want to appeal, depending on your circumstances.
After you obtain the Certificate of Eligibility, you will have to petition the court to seal or expunge your record, as the case may be. If your petition is contested by the State of Florida, or you live in a county that routinely holds hearings, you will have to appear in court. Once the court approves your petition, you can obtain a copy of your seal or expunge order and ensure that the criminal justice agencies also receive a copy the order. If your petition is denied by the courts, you may want to file an appeal, depending on your particular circumstances. Don’t forget to follow-up approximately sixty days after your order is entered to make sure your record has been removed from the databases. A simple way to do this is by obtaining a background check online.
Click the link to find out, for free, if you are eligible for Florida expungement