A criminal record can haunt you for the rest of your days, but an expungement can offer you a new start.
The Florida criminal justice system, in recognition of the fact that a lifetime stigma is too harsh a penalty for youthful indiscretion, offers expungements for certain types of blots on your criminal record.
The system is complex, however, and you are likely to need the services of an expungement lawyer to complete the process.
What Is an Expungement?
An expungement destroys or completely erases the portion of your criminal record that is a part of the expungement petition (not necessarily all of it).
Any expunged information will not show up on a criminal background check.
Not only does an expungement prevent anyone from locating or reading your criminal record, it gives you the legal right to deny that any arrest, charge, or conviction included therein actually happened.
Alternative: Sealing Your Record
Under certain circumstances, Florida might seal your criminal record instead of expunging it.
The difference is that expungement involves destroying the record, while sealing involves concealing it from everyone except law enforcement officials (in case you are charged with a second offense, for example).
What Is Included in a Florida Criminal Record?
A criminal record includes a list of any crimes you were convicted of or pleaded guilty to.
It is not limited to this, however.
It also includes records of any arrests or charges that you have faced, as well as any detentions and the ultimate disposition of any charges, assuming that the disposition itself did not include an expungement.
Who Has Access to My Criminal Record?
Just about anyone willing to pay a small fee can access your criminal record.
Check your own Florida criminal record here.
Law enforcement officials, the FBI, potential employers, educational institutions, banks, credit institutions, landlords, and more can access your criminal record if it is not expunged.
What Are the Possible Consequences of Having a Publicly Available Criminal Record?
If you have a criminal record, it is legal to discriminate against you in any number of ways. You might suffer denial of:
- Your automobile, business, student or home loan application;
- Your university admission application;
- Your apartment lease application;
- Your credit card application; or
- Your job application.
Your fiance might even check your criminal record and break off your engagement because of it.
Which Kinds of Records Are Eligible for Expungement?
Not every possible notation on a criminal record can be expunged. In general, most misdemeanors and some felonies can be expunged.
If you were arrested but charges were dismissed or dropped, you can expunge the record, provided that you have no subsequent conviction on your record.
A charge for which you were acquitted or for which you have been found not guilty is also eligible for expungement.
In general, you cannot seek expungement of a charge if you had a prior conviction or expungement, and you cannot seek expungement of a violent offense or a sex crime.
Likewise, you cannot seek an expungement if you have ever had your records sealed (available to law enforcement only) or expunged (destroyed). Your expungement application may also be denied if the court has intentionally withheld adjudication of the charge against you.
Can I Have More Than One Arrest Record Expunged?
When you seek an expungement, you must attest that you have never before had a record sealed or expunged in Florida.
Further, you generally can seek to have only one record expunged per expungement proceeding.
This would seem to rule out multiple expungements under most circumstances.
An exception applies if the court finds the records directly related—they arose from the same course of conduct, for example.
Please note that Florida offers certain forms of expungement outside of its general expungement statute.
These expungements will not prevent you from being granted expungement under Florida’s general expungement statute.
These types of expungements include:
- Automatic expungement under Section 943.0515;
- Administrative expungement under Section 943.0581;
- Juvenile diversion expungement under Section 943.0582;
- Human trafficking expungement under Section 943.0583;
- Lawful self-defense expungement under Section 943.0578; and
- Early juvenile expungement under Section 943.0515(1)(b)2.
All of the foregoing are considered special types of expungements with different rules.
The Expungement Process
Court-ordered expungement under Section 943.0585 is a two-part process.
You must first file an application with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) for a Certificate of Eligibility together with your fingerprint card.
If the FDLE issues this document, it is confirming that you are eligible for expungement. This does not mean you will receive one.
Ultimately, the final decision is up to a court.
Once you receive the Certificate of Eligibility, you must file a petition for expungement with the criminal court in the county where the arrest in question occurred.
You must include your Certificate of Eligibility and an affidavit as your supporting documents.
The judge will then examine and rule on your petition.
The court may or may not require you to appear at a court hearing to seek the expungement.
If the court holds a hearing, the prosecution might attend for the purpose of opposing the expungement.
The prosecutor’s office will not necessarily oppose your expungement petition, however.
A general estimate of the total time required is about six months from beginning to end. Remember that this figure is a rough average, not a maximum.
Your case could take longer, depending on a variety of factors (a judicial backlog created by COVID-19 court shutdowns, for example).
Contact a Florida Expungement Lawyer Today
In addition to gaining intimate familiarity with the expungement process, we have developed close relationships with the major players in Orlando’s criminal justice system.