Long after an arrest is made, a sentence is served, and fines are paid, a criminal record can linger over your life. In Florida, criminal history records are public history records, even if you were not convicted or charges were dropped. Your record remains public record unless it is sealed or expunged. Having a criminal record can cause numerous complications with finding employment, acquiring housing, getting financial aid for college, joining the armed forces, adoption and child custody arrangements, and purchasing firearms.
In Florida, you have one opportunity to have a record or incident of criminal activity sealed or expunged. At the sole discretion of the court, additional arrests may be sealed if they relate directly to the original arrest.
In Florida, you will either qualify for record sealing, expungement, or neither. Some cases can never be sealed, including many crimes of a sexual nature, certain crimes involving violence, and driving under the influence convictions.
Important Note: You are ineligible to have a criminal record expunged or sealed if either of the following applies:
In order to qualify for record sealing or expungement, you must have a Certificate of Eligibility (COE) from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). This is required to petition the court to seal or expunge your record. Note that getting a COE is based on specific criteria — you are either eligible or you are not. After you have your COE, getting your record sealed or expunged is done through a petition process, based on the discretion of the court. Petitions must be filed in the court having jurisdiction over the arrest, which is usually in the county where the arrest occurred. It takes more than 90 working days for Florida to process your petition — realistically, it will take 6-9 months or more.
Getting your criminal record sealed or expunged, in the simplest terms, means that your record will not be accessible to the public. If your record is sealed, certain entities will have access to it for employment or licensing purposes. Your record remains on file, but the information is confidential. If your record is expunged, the entities that would have access to it will not be able to access the record without a court order.
Persons who have been convicted (adjudicated guilty) of a crime are not eligible for an expungement of their criminal history record. You are eligible to apply for expungement of your legal records if you meet filing criteria and any of the following apply to you:
In other words, in order to qualify for expungement, your charges must have been dismissed or dropped or you were acquitted by a judge or jury.
Persons who have been found guilty, pled guilty, or pled nolo contendere (no contest) of a crime may be eligible to have their records sealed, only once. Certain crimes are ineligible for sealing of a criminal history record. These offenses include:
It is possible to request a seal or an expungement of your criminal history record without an attorney. However, unless you have a criminal court background, the process of petitioning for relief and drafting your affidavit may be difficult and involve explanations of complex legal issues. A lawyer who has successfully handled numerous petitions will give you the best shot of a successful outcome, and not having to start over.
There are multiple exceptions to legal protections offered by record sealing and expungements, which are important to understand.. These are listed in Sections 943.0585(4)(a) and 943.059(4)(a). These legal situations which require full disclosure include:
A criminal record is not just a conviction — you may have a criminal record if you have been arrested and later had charges dropped. Although it takes some effort to get a record cleaned up, this can be a positive and stress-relieving experience, allowing you to put your past behind you. If you’re interested in clearing your record, contact the experienced Tampa criminal defense lawyers at Shrader Law, PLLC, to schedule a free consultation. We will help you determine if you’re eligible to have your record sealed or expunged and answer any questions you may have.