Having a criminal record can make it difficult to find a new job, apply for an apartment, or obtain a professional license. In some cases under Florida law, you can request that your criminal history be expunged or sealed, which means that the general public won’t be able to see it under most circumstances.
What Is Expungement or Sealing?
In Florida, expungement and record sealing are two different processes. But when a record is sealed or expunged, most potential employers who conduct background checks, for example, will be prohibited from accessing the information, and, in many cases, once your record has been expunged or sealed you may legally “deny or fail to acknowledge” your prior record. (Florida Statutes §§ 943.0585, 943.059 (2018).)
Sealing. After a criminal history record is sealed, the general public will not have access to it. Under Florida law, only certain government agencies—including law enforcement and the court system—will be able to view sealed information. (Florida Statutes § 943.059 (2018).)
Expungement. If a court orders your record to be expunged, it must be physically destroyed by criminal justice agencies, except that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement must retain a copy. That copy is kept confidential and can only be viewed by court order. In most cases, it is as if the incident never happened. After expungement, any entity that would have access to a sealed record will see only this response when searching for your criminal record: “Criminal History Record Expunged Pursuant to Florida Statutes 943.” (Florida Statutes § 943.0585 (2018).)
Who Is Eligible to Have Their Criminal Record Sealed or Expunged?
You may petition to have your criminal record sealed if you were not convicted of a crime or if adjudication of guilt has been withheld. To qualify, you must not have had a criminal record sealed or expunged in the past, nor may you have a pending petition to seal or expunge a criminal record. Criminal records related to any of the serious offenses specified in the statute—such as arson, homicide, kidnapping, and certain sex offenses—can never be sealed. (Florida Statutes § 943.059 (2018).)
Expungement, on the other hand, is generally available only in cases where no charges were filed, charges were dismissed, or when the criminal record you want expunged has been sealed for ten years. Florida law prohibits the expungement of records for a wide range of crimes—including some crimes that can be sealed. (Florida Statutes § 943.0585 (2018).)
If you were found guilty—or pleaded guilty or nolo contendere—there is a long list of crimes that are not eligible for expungement or sealing under Florida law, even if the adjudication was withheld. For example, you cannot have your record expunged or sealed if you have been found guilty of any felony or of child abuse. You can find more information, along with the complete list of disqualified offenses, in the Expunge/Seal Package available from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. (Florida Statutes §§ 943.0585 and 943.059 (2018).)
If you were arrested or convicted of a prostitution or obscenity offense as a result of being a victim of human trafficking, you may petition to have your criminal record expunged. (Florida Statutes § 943.0583 (2018).)
What Is the Process for Filing for Expungement or Record Sealing?
Adults seeking sealing or expungement must begin by filing an application for a certificate of eligibility with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The application requires you to submit additional items, including a certified copy of the final disposition of the case you are applying to have sealed or expunged and a full set of fingerprints. (Find forms and instructions in the Expunge/Seal Package available on the website of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.)
After your request is filed with the Department of Law Enforcement, the agency will determine whether to grant you a certificate of eligibility. Once you have obtained the certificate, you must file your petition to seal or expunge with the court that handled your case and present a copy to the arresting agency and the state attorney or prosecutor. (Victims of human trafficking who are seeking expungement or record sealing are not required to file the petition in the same court that originally handled the case.)
If your petition is granted and your record is sealed or expunged, in most instances you won’t have to disclose it. However, there are a number of situations when you are required to reveal your sealed or expunged record, including when applying for a job with a criminal justice agency or a state department that serves children, the disabled, or the elderly. (Florida Statutes §§ 943.0585(4)(a), 943.059(4)(a) (2018).)
Contact a Lawyer
Florida’s expungement and record sealing rules are complicated. To learn more about the law—and to find out if your criminal history record is eligible for sealing or expungement—contact an experienced criminal law attorney.