Getting arrested creates a record that can haunt you for years, affecting opportunities for housing, employment and bank loans. Florida law offers two ways to mitigate the effects of certain criminal records: sealing and expungement.
Sealing a record restricts public access to it but leaves it intact; law enforcement and other agencies may still be able to view the record. Expunging a record means removing it from the system and destroying it completely.
No previous convictions
In order to qualify for sealing or expungement, you must have no prior criminal conviction. This includes convictions in other states. The one exception applies to someone who was convicted of a crime in connection with a human trafficking scheme of which that person was a victim.
Defining a criminal conviction
A major issue when dealing with expungements is what counts as a criminal conviction. While most people think of a conviction as something that happens when a jury finds the defendant guilty, in many cases, pleading guilty can also count. If you were convicted, you may be able to get the conviction overturned, but you need to act fast, as the law only allows you a short time after the conviction to challenge it. A knowledgeable Florida defense attorney can tell you if overturning your conviction may be possible.
Once in a lifetime deal
You only get one sealing or expungement in Florida. However, you could still qualify if you had your record sealed or expunged in another state.
People who received a withheld adjudication (a type of probation) and complied with its terms may qualify to have their record sealed but not expunged. Some types of offenses can disqualify them from expungement or sealing even with a successfully completed withheld adjudication. Florida courts have ruled that conviction for an attempt at a listed crime counts the same as conviction for the actual crime.
As you can see, getting your record sealed or expunged involves far more than just filling out some paperwork and paying a fee. Many cases involve complex legal questions, some of which are briefly discussed above. Special rules may apply to some types of juvenile convictions. Speaking with a qualified attorney can help you get the information you need about your own situation.