Sealing or Expunging Your Record in Florida

In Florida it is relatively simple to have an arrest or criminal charge sealed or expunged. In fact, Longwell Lawyers has successfully helped countless people over the years get their record sealed or expunged.

However, that is not where the conversation should end. What people usually mean when they ask to seal or expunge their record is that they want to make sure that the arrest will not haunt them by hurting their future educational goals, employment opportunities, or economic security. What people really want is to clear their name. Sealing or expunging is a big part of doing that, but there is much more to the story… and Longwell Lawyers knows how to help you.

The Basics on Sealing or Expunging a Record:

Sealing or expunging a record has essentially the same practical effect: both cause a record to be unavailable to the public. In other words, the public will not have access to the record whether you seal or expunge. Technically, sealing a record makes it non-public only. However, the record is still maintained and can be accessed with a court order. When a record is expunged, an order is entered directing law enforcement and the courts to “expunge” the record.

In order to seal or expunge a record, it is first necessary to apply and obtain a Certificate of Eligibility from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). The process is similar for both sealing and expunging a record. A case that is dismissed/dropped can be expunged. If the case was not dismissed or dropped, but the court withheld adjudication, then the record can be sealed. A record that has been sealed for 10 years may be expunged. You may only apply to seal/expunge once. If you have ever been adjudicated guilty of a criminal offense, you may not be eligible to seal or expunge a record. If you meet the eligibility requirement, FDLE will issue a Certificate of Eligibility. This process takes about 4-6 months. For further information on eligibility requirements for sealing or expunging a record, please go to: https://www.fdle.state.fl.us/Seal-and-Expunge-Process/Seal-and-Expunge-Home.aspx

After receiving the Certificate of Eligibility, a Petition to Seal/Expunge must be filed with the court. Florida law favors the granting of properly filed motions for eligible applicants. See, Anderson v. State, 692 So.2d 250 (Fla. App. 1997), holding that a petitioner who satisfies the requirements of the law is presumptively entitled to an order to expunge or seal. However, filing a proper Petition will require the assistance of a lawyer.

Why Sealing or Expunging Alone May NOT Solve the Problem:

Information Technology

We live in the information age. The internet and datamining make the control of information very challenging. Once a person is arrested and the information is entered into the public record of the police agency and jail, companies start to collect your mugshot and arrest information. That information is then uploaded to websites and databases that will sell the information to companies that offer background information to employers, educators and creditors. While sealing or expunging a record will remove the damaging information from the public record, it will not stop private entities such as on-line mugshot websites or re-sellers of data to continue to disseminate the information. It is analogous to putting a picture on the internet. Even if you then remove the picture, it may continue to be re-posted by anyone who downloaded the picture prior to its removal.

Required Disclosure

Generally, you are legally authorized not to disclose an arrest if it has been sealed or expunged. However, a person may be required to disclose information regarding an arrest or criminal charge when applying for various specific positions, such as:

  • Applying for a state-issued professional license.
  • Applying for a law-enforcement/government job.
  • Applying for a school-related job.
  • Buying a firearm or applying for a concealed carry permit.
  • Applying for public office.

As such, having your record sealed or expunged will cause you a problem if you must provide the record and you don’t have it. As such, it is highly recommended that you obtain and keep a certified copy of all pertinent documents (arrest report and disposition, order to expunge or seal) for your records before you secure the sealing or expungement of your criminal history record.

How to Deal with the Dilemma of Disclosure

What do you do if you are applying for a position that does not require disclosure? You are legally authorized to deny a sealed or expunged arrest. However, if you deny it and they discover it anyway, then you look less than honest. If you disclose it, that may cost you the position. The best answer is to create a comprehensive plan for addressing the troublesome incident. Longwell Lawyers recommends customizing a plan that will work for you. Generally, we recommend the following:

  1. Get and keep at least 5 sets of certified copies of your arrest report and disposition.
  2. Seal/Expunge your record and keep a copy of the order.
  3. Write a letter/essay describing the arrest/criminal case and put your best spin on it. Explain if you were wrongly accused… Most importantly, explain why you are a better, more responsible person because of the experience. In other words, take lemons and make lemonade. That way, you can disclose the incident and explain that the case was dropped/you were not convicted, and that an order was entered sealing/expunging. Although you are not legally required to disclose, you are doing so out of an abundance of candor. Furthermore, the experience makes you an even more qualified candidate.

Conclusion

If you are seeking to have your record sealed or expunged, contact Longwell Lawyers. We will help you get your record sealed or expunged and formulate a comprehensive plan to address your concerns about how to protect your name and deal with future disclosure.

Categories: Criminal Law, Articles