Possessing a criminal record can severely limit your ability to live a happy life. Often, holding a criminal record makes it more difficult to find jobs, education, and housing. If you have a criminal record, individual rights of yours, like the right to vote or the right to own a gun, may also be revoked.
Fortunately, your criminal record doesn't need to stay with you forever. If you meet certain requirements, you can apply to have your record expunged or sealed, which allows you to put your record behind you and live life without being weighed down by your past. If you live in Florida and are interested in expunging or sealing your criminal record, it's crucial to understand how the sealing and expungement process works.
What's the Difference Between Sealing and Expunging a Criminal Record?
People often refer to sealing and expunging records as if the results of either process are identical, but that's not entirely true.
If your record is sealed, members of the public (such as potential employers or landlords) won't be able to see it. However, government agencies can still access your record, so even if your record is sealed, you may be out of luck if you want to work for (or do work with) the government. On the other hand, expunging a record essentially purges it completely, and not even government agencies will be able to see it without issuing a court order to do so.
What Florida Crimes Cannot Be Expunged or Sealed?
Fortunately, the majority of crimes are eligible for sealing or expungement. However, certain crimes cannot be sealed or expunged. Crimes that can not be removed from a criminal record include:
- Sex crimes, such as:
- rape or other sex crimes that result in mandatory registration as a sex offender,
- any violation specified as a predicate offense for registration as a sexual predator, even if that offense alone is not enough to warrant registration,
- sexual misconduct,
- sexual performance by a child,
- lewd or lascivious offenses committed on or in the presence of a person less than 16 years old,
- procuring a person less than 18 years old for prostitution,
- voyeurism or video voyeurism.
- Violent crimes, such as:
- manslaughter or homicide,
- assault or battery,
- aggravated assault,
- felony battery, domestic battery by strangulation, or aggravated battery,
- abuse or aggravated abuse of an elderly person or disabled adult,
- child abuse or aggravated child abuse.
- Miscellaneous felonies, such as:
- stalking or aggravated stalking,
- luring or enticing a child,
- human trafficking,
- kidnapping or false imprisonment,
- selling or buying of minors,
- drug trafficking,
- manufacturing a controlled substance,
- home-invasion robbery,
- a violation of the Florida Communications Fraud Act.
The above list covers almost every crime that isn't eligible for sealing or expungement, but for a complete list (that details less common crimes such as aircraft piracy), visit Florida Statute 943.084.
What Are the Requirements to Expunge or Seal a Crime in Flordia?
To seal or expunge your crime, you have to meet specific eligibility requirements.
To be eligible to seal a crime, your case must be resolved because:
- You entered a guilty or no contest plea, and the court withheld adjudication of guilt, or
- You were found guilty after a trial; the court withheld the adjudication of guilt, and
- the offense is not prohibited for sealing (check the above list to learn what offenses are prohibited),
- you've never been convicted of a criminal offense,
- it's the first arrest or conviction you've sealed.
To be eligible for expungement, your case must be resolved because:
- Charges against you were dropped, dismissed, or you were acquitted of charges by a judge or jury.
- Your crime is not prohibited for expungement (check the above list to learn what offenses are prohibited).
- You've never been convicted of a criminal offense.
- It's the first arrest or conviction you've sealed.
It's also worth noting that if you were arrested but not convicted of a crime, you're eligible for sealing or assumption. However, if you plead guilty or nolo contendere to a crime prohibited for sealing or expungement, you won't be eligible.
If you meet the above requirements, your criminal record is probably eligible for sealing or expungement.
Are There Different Kinds of Sealing or Expungement?
Depending on the unique circumstances of your case, the sealing or expungement process will look different. For example, the process for expunging an offense committed by a juvenile is different than the process for expunging an offense committed by an adult.
Here are some common types of expungement:
- Administrative expungement. If you were arrested by mistake or are the victim of an unlawful arrest, you can apply for expungement with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE).
- Court-ordered sealing or expungement. If you meet the requirements we covered earlier, and your crime is not prohibited for sealing or expungement, you can apply for a sealing or expungement with the FDLE.
- Automatic juvenile expungement, early juvenile expungement, and juvenile diversion expungement. Juveniles who satisfy certain requirements and are not convicted of a forcible felony as an adult have their criminal records automatically expunged by the FDLE at the age of 21 (or 26, if they had to attend a juvenile correctional facility or prison). Individuals between the ages of 18 and 21 can apply for an expungement if they aren't found guilty of any offenses (including the one they want expunged) within five years of their initial charge. Individuals who only commit a misdemeanor and complete the appropriate juvenile diversion program can also apply to have their record expunged.
- Lawful self-defense expungement. If you were charged with committing an offense but were found not guilty because you acted in lawful self-defense, you can apply for expungement with the FDLE.
- Human trafficking expungement. Individuals who faced charges as the result of being a human trafficking victim (for example, a person forced to participate in a prostitution scheme while being trafficked) are eligible for expungement.
- Automatic sealing. If you meet the requirements for sealing a crime that we discussed earlier, and your offense is not prohibited for sealing, you can submit a qualified disposition to the FDLE to have your record sealed.
How Do I Apply for a Sealing or Expungement?
There are a few steps in the sealing and expungement process:
- First, you need to apply for a certificate of eligibility with the FDLE. You can request an application for the certificate of eligibility by emailing the FDLE at SEinfo@fdle.state.fl.us, and the FDLE will send you an application. Once you fill out the application and send it back to the FDLE, the FDLE will determine whether your criminal record is indeed eligible for sealing or expungement. If it is, the FDLE will award you a certificate of eligibility. Documents needed to apply for a certificate of eligibility include:
- Your application. The application contains personally identifying information and must be signed in the presence of a notary or court clerk.
- A written certified statement page, completed by the appropriate state attorney or statewide prosecutor. This is only necessary for expungement applications.
- A certified disposition. Dispositions can be obtained from the court clerk in the county where you were charged. You'll also need documentation proving your probation was terminated if you were on probation.
- A completed fingerprint form/card. You'll need to enlist the help of a law enforcement professional (LEP) or criminal justice agency to carry out this step properly.
- A processing fee of $75.00 (non-refundable).
- An attorney letterhead (if applicable). If an attorney is helping you complete your sealing or expungement application, they must provide a letterhead for your certificate of eligibility application.
- Once you receive your certificate of eligibility, you must submit the certificate, a required affidavit, and a petition for release with the court that had jurisdiction over the charges you wish to expunge or seal (this is usually the county court you were sentenced in).
- At the court's discretion, your record may or may not be sealed or expunged.
- If you believe the FLDE wrongfully denied your certificate of eligibility application, or that you were wrongfully denied a sealing or expungement, you can request the FDLE review the details of the case.
How Long Does it Take to Receive a Sealing or Expungement?
On average, you can expect to spend 5-7 months waiting for your sealing or expungement. A number of factors, including how fast the state attorney signs off on the case, how efficient your clerk is, and how easy it is for the FDLE to award you a certificate of eligibility and deal with your case, can affect how long it takes to seal or expunge a record.
Note: Right now, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the FDLE is experiencing an unprecedented workload. If you're trying to get your case sealed or expunged during the COVID-19 pandemic, expect to wait longer than usual for your sealing or expungement.
Do I Need an Attorney to Seal or Expunge My Case?
You don't technically need the assistance of a criminal defense attorney to seal or expunge your case, which is why the attorney letterhead is an optional requirement for a certificate of eligibility.
That being said, we do highly recommend working with an attorney if you want to seal or expunge your record. There's a lot of reasonably complicated legal paperwork involved in a sealing or expungement application, and an attorney can help you fill out all the forms correctly. The last thing you want to do is wait eagerly on your expungement for five months, only to have the FDLE reject your certificate of eligibility application because you didn't take the proper steps when filling out some paperwork. An attorney can also advise you on what you should do next if your certificate of eligibility application or sealing and expungement request is denied by the FDLE or a court.
If you need help sealing or expunging your criminal record, the Law Offices of Jason K.S. Porter, P.A., has your back. Our team can help you take all the necessary precautions when trying to seal or expunge your record.
Arrange a free consultation! Contact us online or via phone at (904) 701-0591. **Consultation fees may apply to family law consultations.