How The Criminal Record Expungement Process Works In Florida

Expungement is a court-ordered process that effectively seals or erases the legal record of an arrest or conviction, making it inaccessible to the public. While it is possible to navigate the expungement process without legal representation, it is highly advisable to seek the assistance of an expungement lawyer due to its intricate nature and potential complications.

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Getting A Criminal Record Expunged

Florida law provides a unique approach to expunging juvenile criminal records. The state automatically expunges juvenile records at either the age of 21 or 26, depending on the circumstances of the case.

In some situations, a juvenile may be eligible for early expungement upon turning 18 if they have maintained a clean record for five years. It is important to note that the availability and procedure of expungement in Florida can vary depending on the county where the arrest or conviction occurred.

Definition and Differences Between Sealing and Expungement

In Florida, individuals with a criminal record can seek to seal or expunge their records. Sealing is the process of restricting access to a criminal record, making it unavailable to the public. However, certain government agencies can still access sealed records.

On the other hand, expungement refers to erasing a criminal record entirely. Once expunged, the record is removed from government databases, and its existence cannot be disclosed, even to specific government entities, except under very limited circumstances.

Eligibility Requirements for Expungement

To be eligible for expungement in Florida, certain requirements must be met:

  • The individual seeking expungement must have no prior adjudication or conviction for any offense or crime.
  • No more than one record (either criminal, civil, or traffic) may be expunged or sealed.
  • The particular offense must be eligible for expungement under Florida law. Some offenses, such as violent crimes, sexual assault, and certain drug offenses, may not be eligible.
  • All terms of probation and other conditions have been successfully met.

It is advised that those seeking expungement consult with an attorney experienced in Florida expungement law. The process can be complex and requires careful attention to detail and knowledge of the criteria and procedures.

The Expungement Process

In Florida, expunging a criminal record involves several key steps. This section covers the main components of the process, including obtaining a Certificate of Eligibility, filing the Petition for Expungement, and going through the review and hearing stage.

Certificate of Eligibility

Before initiating the expungement process, an individual must first obtain a Certificate of Eligibility. This certificate is issued by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and serves as a preliminary approval for expungement. To apply for the certificate, the applicant must submit the following:

  • A completed application form
  • A certified copy of the disposition of the charge(s) to be expunged
  • A non-refundable processing fee

It is important to note that not all criminal records are eligible for expungement. Certain crimes, such as violent felonies and sexual offenses, cannot be expunged under Florida law.

Filing the Petition for Expungement

Once a Certificate of Eligibility has been obtained, the next step is to file a Petition for Expungement with the appropriate court. This petition should include the following information:

  • A copy of the Certificate of Eligibility
  • A sworn statement asserting that the applicant meets all requirements for expungement
  • Any relevant supporting documentation

Additionally, the petitioner must provide notice of the petition to the State Attorney's Office or the agency that made the arrest, allowing them to object to the expungement.

Review and Hearing

Upon filing the Petition for Expungement, the court will review the application and determine if there is sufficient cause for a hearing. If a hearing is deemed necessary, the petitioner and their attorney will present their case before a judge. The State Attorney may also be present to raise any objections.

The judge will consider various factors, such as the nature of the crime, the petitioner's behavior since the arrest, and the potential benefits of expungement to the petitioner. If the judge approves the petition, they will issue an order to expunge the criminal record. The expunged criminal history record will then be removed from public view, allowing the individual to move forward without the burden of a criminal record in most circumstances.

Crimes Ineligible for Sealing

In Florida, certain criminal offenses are ineligible for seal, even if you received a withhold of adjudication. It's important to be aware of these restrictions before beginning the sealing process. Some of the more serious crimes that cannot be sealed include:

  • Murder
  • Sex Crimes: Involving children or sexual battery
  • Human trafficking
  • Drug trafficking
  • Child abuse: Including neglect and aggravated child abuse
  • Aggravated assault and aggravated battery

This list is not exhaustive, and other crimes may also be ineligible for expungement under Florida law. The best way to know whether your record is eligible for expungement is to speak with a criminal defense attorney about your criminal history.

Understanding Florida Law on Expungement

In order to pursue expungement in Florida, one must first understand the state's laws and regulations surrounding the process. Florida Statutes § 943.0585 and § 943.059 specifically address the expungement and sealing of criminal records. Key points of these statutes include:

  • Application and Eligibility Requirements: Only certain individuals and situations qualify for expungement. Typically, the individual must have no other criminal records or convictions, and the crime at hand must not be ineligible, as mentioned in the previous subsection.
  • Record Destruction or Non-Disclosure: Expungement results in the removal and destruction of records, while sealing results in non-disclosure or limited access to the public.
  • Mandatory Disclosure: In some cases, even an expunged/sealed record must be disclosed, such as when applying for certain jobs or licenses or when involved in subsequent criminal proceedings.

Furthermore, § 943.0583 of the Florida Statutes allows human trafficking victims to petition for the expungement of their criminal records if their offense was committed as a result of being a victim of trafficking.

Benefits of Having a Record Sealed or Expunged

Expunging or sealing a criminal record in Florida offers numerous benefits that can significantly enhance one's quality of life. One of the most notable benefits is the improved access to employment opportunities.

Employers often conduct background checks, and having a criminal record can hinder an individual's chances of securing a job. Expunging or sealing a record makes it essentially invisible to employers, facilitating better opportunities for professional growth and economic stability.

In addition to employment, expungement can also positively impact housing opportunities. Landlords frequently run background checks and might hesitate to rent to someone with a criminal record. Expunging or sealing a record can alleviate this issue, providing access to desirable housing options.

Moreover, expungement or sealing can improve an individual's chance to pursue education and professional licenses. Educational institutions and licensing boards may require background checks, and a criminal record could limit access to higher education or professional certifications. An expunged or sealed record can help individuals overcome such barriers.

Limitations and Accessibility of Sealed Records

While expungement and sealing offer many benefits, it is essential to understand the limitations and accessibility of sealed records in Florida. Sealed records remain accessible to specific government agencies and entities, such as the criminal justice system and law enforcement. This means that if an individual faces additional legal issues in the future, their sealed records may be unsealed and used against them in court.

Furthermore, it is worth noting that sealing a record does not entirely remove its traces. Though the process limits the record's visibility, it can still be accessed under specific circumstances. For instance, if an individual applies for a job in certain government or sensitive sectors, they may be required to disclose their sealed or expunged record.

Additional Expungement Provisions

Early Juvenile Expungement

In Florida, early juvenile expungement is a specific provision catering to those who have committed offenses as juveniles. This process allows eligible individuals to expunge their criminal history records, providing a clean slate to help them reintegrate into society. As per the Florida Statutes (section 943.0515), eligible individuals must:

  • Be at least 18 years old but not more than 21 years old
  • Have successfully completed a pre-arrest or post-arrest diversion program
  • Not having any adult charges filed, pending, or withholding adjudication.

The early juvenile expungement process requires submitting an application and verifying eligibility. It is important to consult a qualified criminal lawyer familiar with Florida law to ensure proper understanding and execution of this complex process.

Human Trafficking Expungement

Florida has specific statutes regarding expungement for victims of human trafficking. Under section 943.0583 of the Florida Statutes, adults and minors who are victims of human trafficking can petition the court to expunge any arrests and convictions related to non-violent offenses committed as a result of being a victim of human trafficking.

To be eligible for human trafficking expungement, the petitioner must:

  • Provide a sworn statement attesting that they are a victim of human trafficking
  • Provide documentation to support their claim, such as records of a criminal justice agency, government agency, or a recognized human trafficking advocate
  • Not have any other convictions or pending charges unrelated to human trafficking.

This type of expungement provides an opportunity for human trafficking victims to move forward without the burden of a criminal record that arose from their victimization. Through these provisions, Florida acknowledges these victims' unique circumstances and seeks to provide them with the opportunity for a fresh start.

Speak To An Attorney About Expunging Your Record

If you have a criminal record and are interested in having it expunged, you should speak with an attorney about the specifics of your criminal record to find out if you’re eligible. We understand how complicated life can be with a criminal record, and we love to help our clients get a fresh start whenever possible.

Call the Weinstein Legal Team at 888.626.1108 or click here to schedule a free case review with an attorney today.

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