Expungements and Sealings in Florida

If you have lost your job as a result of COVID-19, or want to find a better quality job during these difficult times, it can be an additional struggle if you have a criminal record in Florida. However, there are routes you can take to fix the situation. If you have been arrested for or charged with a crime (but not found guilty) you can apply to have your record expunged or sealed. If an expungement or sealing is granted, this means that when applying for jobs, any charges or arrests will not need to be disclosed, and will not show up when a background check is performed. This can help you to find work easier, as you will not face discrimination for having a criminal record

What is an Expungement or Sealing?

Expungement and sealing laws originally arose in response to the Sunshine Law, which allowed public access to records from government entities in Florida. This was intended to provide government and state accountability to the people of Florida (and to provide information on dangerous criminals). However, it also means that people who have made small mistakes or been arrested incorrectly now have a criminal record that is publicly available. This makes things hard for people to have a fresh start, and to seek or apply for jobs. This has been made even worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, during which many people have lost their employment.

Seeking an expungement or sealing is extremely beneficial for many people who are desiring to make a fresh start, and who have not been convicted of any further offenses. By applying for an expungement or sealing, employers, colleges or universities will not be able to see your record of a charge or arrest. This can give you peace of mind, and help you to find work, advance in your job, pursue further study, and protect your reputation in the community. 

It’s important to know that you can only apply to have one charge or arrest expunged or sealed. If you have multiple charges or arrests only one of them will be affected by your application, unless the arrests or charges are all related to one criminal act or incident. This means that if you have multiple arrests or charges, you should choose carefully which record you want to be expunged or sealed. A lawyer can help with advising you on this choice. 

Florida law defines expunction (another word for expungement) of a criminal record in Section 943.045(16), Florida Statutes as:

… the court-ordered physical destruction or obliteration of a record or portion of a record by any criminal justice agency … except that criminal history records in the custody of the department must be retained in all cases for purposes of evaluating subsequent requests by the subject of the record for sealing or expunction, or for purposes of recreating the record… 

There are certain criteria that must be met for a record to be expunged:

  • No indictment must have been issued
  • You must not have been found guilty of any other criminal offense, or juvenile delinquency offenses
  • You must not have been found guilty or delinquent in the case that you are applying for expungement for
  • You must not have already had prior sealed or expunged cases, or any other sealings or expungements pending

For the most part, the same approach applies to having records sealed. Sealing records is almost the same as expungement, but with slightly different administrative impacts. While an expungement will destroy your records of charges and arrests, a sealing makes them inaccessible. 

Sealing is covered under Section 943.059 Florida Statutes. Sealing is defined under Section 943.045(19), and means:

… the preservation of a record under such circumstances that it is secure and inaccessible to any person not having a legal right of access to the record or the information contained and preserved therein.

There are certain offenses for which your record cannot be sealed or expunged. These offenses include, among others:

  • Sexual assaults or sex crimes
  • Sexual or abusive crimes involving minors
  • Arson
  • Aggravated assault or battery
  • Illegal use of explosives
  • Elder abuse
  • Aircraft piracy
  • Kidnapping
  • Homicide or manslaughter
  • Robbery
  • Carjacking
  • Burglary
  • Stalking
  • Domestic violence
  • Home invasion
  • Terrorism
  • Manufacturing illegal drugs

Does Expungement and Sealing Apply to All Job Applications?

There are a few situations in which your expungement or sealing will not apply, and it is important to note these circumstances. For example, you are not allowed to hide your previous record if you are applying for a job with law enforcement, or for admission to the Florida bar.

You must also make a truthful disclosure of your record if you are applying for jobs with the Department of Children and Family Services, the Agency for Health Care Administration, the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, or the Department of Juvenile Justice. In addition, if you want to be employed or licensed as an educator with the Department of Education, or are running for school boards, universities, charter schools, or other schools (including any government entity that licenses childcare facilities), you must also disclose your record truthfully. The same also applies if you are applying to work at a seaport, or are applying to be appointed as a guardian of a child. 

Finally, you must make a truthful disclosure of your record if you are attempting to purchase a firearm, or are applying for a concealed carry license. 

How Can You Apply for Expungement or Sealing?

To apply for an expungement or sealing you need to engage a lawyer in most cases. It is possible to apply on your own account, but if you make a mistake in your application it can be difficult to apply again. 

You can apply for expungement or sealing even if you live out of state, or no longer live in the US. Even if you acquired an arrest or charge while holidaying in Florida from overseas, you can still apply to have your record expunged or sealed. Applications to have records sealed or expunged can in some cases be assessed within 6 months, but can take up to over a year in others. After an expungement or sealing has been granted, it can take several weeks to be applied to your record. 

There are a few key steps that you must follow to apply for an expungement or sealing:

  1. First, you need to fill out the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Application Form for an expungement or sealing.
  2. You will also need to have your fingerprints taken and added to the form.
  3. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement will then review your request, and will research your criminal history to determine whether you are eligible.
  4. They will return to you with either:
    1. A letter telling you that your case is not eligible (with reasons why not);
    2. A Certificate of Eligibility to Seal your case; or
    3. A Certificate of Eligibility to Expunge your case.
  5. Your Certificate of Eligibility then allows you to file a petition in court to have your record sealed or expunged. The forms that you get must be filed with the Clerk’s Office.
  6. You then appear at the hearing for your case and your petition will be heard. 

This process can be complicated, and it’s important to get each step right along the way. It is strongly advised to hire a lawyer to help you with getting an expungement or sealing of your record. 

Call Stechschulte Nell For Help 

If you would like to apply for the expungement or sealing of a record, the law office of Stechschulte Nell can advise you. Don’t wait. Call our top-rated Florida law firm at (813) 489-5385 to speak to an experienced federal defense attorney. We’re available 24/7 to take your call.

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