Putting My Mistake in the Past

My eighteen year old nephew told me that before he was offered a job in college his future employer went to his MySpace page to find out more information about him. How he presented himself on this website and even how his friends presented themselves made the difference of whether or not he got the job.

Many people do not realize that in this age of information there are many employers, landlords, and other agencies that will have access to mistakes you may have done in the past. One single arrest creates a criminal record, and could have devastating results to your future. A criminal record is simply created when someone is arrested and fingerprinted. What happens after that arrest, whether it is a conviction, acquittal, dismissal of charges before trial, or other disposition is also part of your criminal record. If you were unfortunate enough to be involved in the criminal justice system, your past will follow you, and it can interfere with your ability to move on with your life.

Fortunately, Florida is among several states that allow a person arrested for a crime to either seal or expunge it from their criminal history record. Anyone who is arrested under Florida law can petition the court to seal or expunge their arrest history so long as they qualify.

Expunging a criminal arrest means that your arrest is removed from a public record. Most arrests that result in a dismissal or being dropped by the State Attorney’s Office can be expunged so long as you have never been adjudicated guilty. The expungement process can begin immediately after the dismissal. This may be the best way to guarantee that a past mistake does not come back against you.

Sealing a criminal record is not as final as an expungement, but it does mean that the public will not have access to your record. Criminal cases that result in a finding of guilt but with a withholding of the adjudication of guilt may qualify to be sealed.

Florida law set forth the criteria to be met in order to be eligible to have a criminal record sealed or expunged. An individual must first apply to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for a Certificate of Eligibility. The issuance of a Certificate of Eligibility does not mean that your criminal history record will be ordered sealed or expunged. It just indicates if you are statutorily eligible. A judge must make the final determination as to whether to expunge or seal a record.

One of the eligibility criteria for an applicant to have a record sealed or expunged require that you are able to testify that you have never had a record sealed or expunged. This means, in effect, that you may only seal or expunge one arrest record in your life. More than one record may be sealed or expunged in the same proceeding if the Court, in its sole discretion, finds that all the arrests were directly related.

The next step is to petition the Courts to seal or expunge your record. If the Court grants your motion to seal or expunge your criminal history record, then a certified copy of this order would be sent to the clerk of court, the local law enforcement agency that made the arrest and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the letter would direct those agencies to either deny access to their records (if sealed) or destroy the records (if expunged). By having a criminal arrest history sealed or expunged, the Florida Legislature allows you to legally state that you have not been convicted or arrested for that particular offense. This would mean that your record is no longer available to the public.

Before you consider applying to go to college, or for an academic scholarship, for a home or car loan, or to rent a home or apartment, or for a new employment that could establish a good career, talk to your attorney about your options. Florida does not have any time limits to begin the sealing or expungement process. However, the laws can change. Waiting will not make it go away and could put at risk your ability to expunge or seal your record.

There are many good, hard-working people who, at one time in their life, found themselves involved on the wrong side of the criminal justice system. They are not bad people; they just simply made a mistake. Now might be a good time to put a mistake in the past.

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