In Florida, a felony conviction remains on your record indefinitely. The law that provides for some criminal charges to be removed from your record by expungement, or to be sealed from public view, prohibits anyone from erasing or sealing a felony conviction.
At Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law, we understand how disappointed you must be to learn that your Florida felony conviction is a permanent record and that anyone can see the conviction if they look on the state’s website. But you need to know what a felony is, and what a conviction is because having a felony charge is very different from being convicted.
Defining a Felony in Florida
Under Florida Statute § 775.08, a felony is any offense punishable by being a sentence of more than one year in a “state penitentiary.” That does not include shorter sentences that were extended beyond a year. The offense for which you were convicted must carry the possibility of more than one year in a “state correctional facility.”
There are different levels or degrees of felonies in Florida, but all felonies carry a maximum prison sentence of more than a year. The four different degrees of felonies differ in how much prison the court can impose on someone convicted of the crime:
- Life felony (a capital offense) — from 40 years to life in prison and a $15,000 fine
(Capital offense carries a maximum penalty of death)
- First-degree felony — up to 30 years in prison and a $10,000 fine
- Second-degree felony — up to 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine
- Third-degree felony — up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
We could provide a list of every felony in this blog post, but the fact you need to remember is that any offense carrying these penalties are felonies in Florida.
Defining a Conviction in Florida
No one is a “felon” unless they are convicted of a felony. You are not a convicted felon unless you plead guilty and are adjudicated for a felony charge, or the judge or jury found you guilty after a trial.
Withholding Adjudication Benefits & Limitations
In some cases, even in felony cases, the judge can “withhold adjudication,” and impose probation with a series of conditions the defendant needs to meet, programs they need to complete, and community service they need to perform. If the defendant successfully completes all those requirements and pays any outstanding fines, fees, and restitution, they may avoid the permanent loss of valuable civil rights.
Benefits: The right to vote, sit on a jury, and hold public office will not be forfeited when a judge withholds adjudication in an eligible felony prosecution. Another substantial benefit of a withheld adjudication followed by successful completion of probation and other obligations is that you are lawfully entitled to answer, “No,” when asked on most job applications if you were convicted of a felony. Of course, that only applies to the case in which adjudication is withheld.
Limitations: Unfortunately, even if the judge does withhold adjudication in an eligible felony case, the law still prevents the charge itself from being expunged or sealed. It’s true that the case was resolved without a conviction, but the record of the charge in the case will remain an open and public record permanently.
Preventing Felony Convictions
Preventing a felony conviction is the only way to avoid a permanent, public felony conviction record in Florida. The minute you or someone you love is arrested or indicted for any alleged criminal conduct, you must contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer in your area immediately.
There is no safe time to wait before hiring a skilled criminal defense lawyer when someone is arrested or charged with a crime. From the first moment, the arrestee is in police custody, their future and their ability to effectively defend the charge can be damaged.
Defending a Felony Begins Instantly
People sometimes say they don’t fear being arrested “because I have nothing to hide.” That statement implies that police and prosecutors are infallible and that they never make mistakes or misjudge a set of circumstances. We all know that is not true. Innocent people are arrested and charged with crimes all the time. Police are not mind-readers who can tell if someone is guilty or innocent ahead of time.
And do you know what happens when innocent people get arrested? They talk. They talk about why they are not guilty, why they didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt, or why they thought they were justified in whatever action they might have taken that led to the arrest.
Do innocent people need to remain silent if they didn’t do anything? Yes.
Some of the harmful statements innocent people make when they are arrested include these:
- “I was there, but I’m not the one who did it.” (punch, shoot, stab, steal, etc.)
- “I was only defending myself. He hit me first.” (shot at me first, banged into my car first)
- “I shot him because I thought he had a gun.”
- “I was protecting my neighbor’s property.”
Each of those statements could easily be offered by a person who did nothing but standby or who acted in the belief that they were justified in their conduct. But criminal law theory doesn’t match your idea of what is reasonable.
Conspiracy to commit . . . — Someone who only drives another person to a location where that person is going to fight someone can be charged and prosecuted for conspiracy to commit a crime. If the victim is badly injured or killed, the charge could be conspiracy to commit felony assault or conspiracy to murder.
Responding with Unreasonable Force — A person who defends themselves by using more force than is reasonably necessary to repel the attack (excluding Stand Your Ground cases) can be charged with criminal assault. If someone is the initial aggressor in a physical confrontation, that person may not rely on self-defense to excuse their injuring the person who responded to their initial aggression.
Defense of Others Mistake — When a person steps into a situation and uses force in defense of another person, the intervening party can claim the “defense of others” defense, IF they are correct about who is the victim, and they don’t use more force than is reasonably necessary to protect the victim. Misreading a situation or acting without sound facts can leave someone behind bars when they thought they were the hero.
Charged with a Felony Crime?