How to Get Your Record Expunged or Sealed in Florida

How to Get Your Record Expunged or Sealed in Florida

Susan R.  Miller
 | 

 Let’s say your younger years were a bit wild and you broke the law and got yourself arrested. Or maybe you were going through a particularly difficult time and found yourself on the wrong side of the law and behind bars.

 

Fast forward to today. You’ve turned around your life and you are looking to get a fresh start. However, your past criminal record has come back to haunt you, preventing you from getting that job or that mortgage on your dream home.

 

Good news! You may be eligible to get your record either sealed or expunged.

 

What is the difference between sealing and expunging?

 

Under Florida law, adult criminal history records are public unless sealed or expunged. Sealing means that your criminal record is hidden from public view; expunging means it is completely eradicated. In either case, if you go for a job and a potential employer searches your criminal record, they won’t find it.

 

There are some exceptions. If what is known as a FCIC/NCIC search is conducted, they will be able to see that your record has been sealed, but not what was sealed. FCIC/NCIC stands for Florida Crime Information Center (FCIC) and the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and is limited and available only to law enforcement, government agencies, and organizations given special permission to search records. Even then, however, they will be informed that your record was expunged, and they would not have access to the record without a court order.

 

How do I know if I am eligible for expungement?

 

Florida law allows someone to expunge their criminal record if that record did not lead to a conviction, or if that record has been sealed for 10 or more years. You may be eligible to seal your Florida criminal record if adjudication was withheld and you successfully completed your sentence. A withheld adjudication means that the judge orders probation, but does not formally convict the defendant of a crime.

 

Not every crime can be sealed or expunged in Florida. Those that are not eligible include: terrorism, murder, kidnapping, aggravated assault, abuse of an elderly person, arson, child abuse or aggravated child abuse. The number of crimes is fairly extensive. A full list can be found here.

 

Getting started

 

The process takes two steps. The first step to seal or expunge your criminal record is to submit an application for a Certificate of Eligibility to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). You can find the application here. You will be asked to provide other documents as well including:

 

·      A certified disposition for each case/criminal charge(s) listed on the application

·      A completed fingerprint form/card

·      A $75 processing fee

·      If you are represented by an attorney, you will need a letter of representation from the attorney on letterhead submitted with the application. If an attorney letter is not received, FDLE will only correspond with the applicant.

 

The FDLE will review your application to determine if you are eligible. If the FDLE finds you to be eligible, that does not mean your record has been sealed or expunged. Now comes step two, you will need to petition the court where the arrest or conviction happened.

 

While there is no requirement that you need an attorney to get your record sealed or expunged, because the process involves complex legal matters, it may be best that you consult with one. It does not have to be the same attorney who represented you at the time of your arrest.

 

Don’t expect the process to happen overnight. It can take many months to complete a sealing or expungement.

 

What if the crime was committed while I was a juvenile?

 

In most cases, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement keeps a youth’s criminal record until they turn 24, at which time they are expunged. However, there are some exceptions where your criminal record can follow you into adulthood.

 

·      If the youth was a habitual offender or was sent to a juvenile correctional facility or juvenile prison, then the record may be kept until the individual turns 26.

·      If an individual is charged with or convicted of a forcible felony after he or she turns 18 and prior to the destruction of his or her juvenile record, or is “adjudicated as an adult” for a forcible felony, his or her previous juvenile record is merged with the adult record and maintained as part of the adult record.

·      The Criminal Justice Information Program retains the criminal history record of a minor adjudicated delinquent for certain sexual offender crimes committed on or after July 1, 2007.

·      Those records cannot be destroyed and must be merged with and retained as part of the person’s adult criminal history record.

 

Can I vote after my record is cleared?

 

In Florida, voters passed Amendment 4 to the Constitution in 2018. It was designed to automatically restore voting rights for those with prior felony convictions, except those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense, upon completion of their sentences.

 

However, shortly thereafter, lawmakers turned around and passed a law that required felons to pay off all outstanding court debts before they could be eligible to vote. This left many unable to vote.

 

On March 10, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet, acting as the Board of Executive Clemency eliminated the five-year waiting period for felons to be eligible to have their civil rights (including voting rights) restored, but only those who have paid their court-ordered fines. Those with outstanding legal financial obligations also will be able to apply to have their civil rights restored, but they will have to go before the clemency board, which can decide whether to waive the fees and fines.

 

As you can see, getting your criminal record sealed or expunged can be done, but there are numerous steps to the process. Hiring a qualified criminal law attorney can help you get through the process easier and more quickly.

 

This article is intended to convey generally useful information only and does not constitute legal advice. Any opinions expressed are solely those of the author, not LawChamps.

 

 
Susan R.  Miller

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