Is there anything I can do about a Florida criminal record?

If you have been arrested, made a plea agreement with the state of Florida, or have been convicted of a criminal offense at trial,  a record of these proceedings is accessible to a large part of the public. The state of Florida has one of the most open record systems in the county. 

The easy access to open records has numerous negative consequences for those with a criminal record, including difficulty finding employment, limited housing opportunities, and other ramifications that can make it difficult to move forward with your life. 

There are ways to have these records removed. Florida law provides for the sealing and expungement of specific criminal records. However, the rules regarding sealing and expunction can be confusing. Florida has strict limitations of what can be sealed and expunged.


What is the difference between sealing and expunging a record?

In three decades, incarceration has increased by more than 500 percent. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. With approximately half a million prisoners released each year, the stigma of a criminal record follows them back into society, where it presents a significant barrier to reintegrating into society.

Even for those who were never incarcerated, a criminal record, even for misdeamonors, can present a major barrier to employment. Even if a person with a criminal record is able to find a job, the record may prevent them from advancing regardless of their hard work to achieve their goals.

Having a criminal record expunged offers numerous benefits to help you move forward with your life after having a brush with the law. With an expungement, Florida law allows you to legally deny or fail to disclose the arrests and convictions in the sealed or expunged record. Other benefits include:

    • You can seek professional licenses or certificates by legally denying prior criminal history that has been sealed or expunged.
    • Depending on the type of crime, an expungement could have a positive effect on your credit rating
    • On job applications, you can legally state that you were never convicted of a crime
    • When you fill out rental applications, you can legally deny that you were ever arrested or convicted of a crime
    • Once the process is complete, you no longer have to worry about a background check for housing or employment revealing your criminal history
    • You retain your privacy rights. With a sealed or expunged record, you can choose whom to tell and not tell about your history.

Outside the narrow exceptions listed below, having your criminal record sealed or expunged, if eligible, can almost always improve your chances of living your life without the problems associated with having a criminal history.


There are times when you must reveal a criminal background, even if it is expunged

If you apply for work at a criminal justice agency, you must acknowledge prior arrest and convictions, even if they are expunged. If you apply for employment at any of the following agencies, you cannot deny your prior criminal history, even with expungement.

  • Department of Children and Family Services
  • Department of Juvenile Justice
  • Department of Education
  • Private, charter, or parochial school systems
  • Licensing agencies for child care facilities
  • Universities
  • Any time you are seeking employment in a position where you have direct contact with the elderly, developmentally disabled, or children, you cannot deny your prior arrests
  • Employment at a seaport
  • You must reveal your criminal history before joining the United States military. The presence of those records may not necessarily prevent you from enlisting in the military, but that is evaluated on a case by case basis and will depend heavily on the crime committed.

Other considerations when seeking an expungement or sealing of your records is understanding that you will remain in certain protected databases. If your original conviction prevented you from holding a public office, an expungement does not reverse that decision.

If you are arrested and charged with another crime, your expunged criminal record can still be considered a “prior” and influence charging and sentencing. The original conviction can also be used by the Florida DMV to revoke or suspend your license to drive, despite the expungement, if you are charged with a DUI or other driving offense. If you are in the country illegally, the original conviction can be used by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement when considering whether you should be removed from the country.


What Is the Difference Between Sealing and Expunging a Record?

Florida law allows for the sealing or expunging of particular criminal arrest or conviction records. There is a subtle but significant distinction between sealing and expunging a criminal record. Sealing of a criminal record obscures the record from view in public records. When a record is sealed, it is not deleted or destroyed, but instead placed under protection by the state of Florida. The record is not disclosed to the public, and it is considered confidential. However, the courts and the criminal justice system will still have access to the record.

The expungement of a criminal record calls for a complete deletion of the criminal record as if the records never existed. It is important to note that the phrase “criminal records” includes everything from the initial arrest to the case’s final disposition. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement will keep a confidential copy of the record that can only be used in minimal circumstances. The Florida statute outlining the expungement process defines it as the physical destruction or obliteration of a record.

How Do I Determine if I am Eligible for Expunction or Sealing?

Chapter 943 of the Florida Statutes discusses the various powers of law enforcement agencies in the state of Florida. The Florida Department of Law enforcement handles the initial application for the sealing or expunction of criminal records. The initial application calls for a list of the requested offense(s) that you want to be sealed or expunged.

Under Florida law, there is a list of enumerated offenses that are automatically deemed ineligible for expungement or sealing. Violent crimes, significant drug crimes, and most sex crimes can never be expunged or sealed.

Eligibility Requirements for Expungement

To expunge a record, you must meet the following criteria:

  • There are no previous adjudications of guilt for any criminal offenses or comparable ordinance violations, as well as no prior adjudication of delinquency in a juvenile case for any criminal act outlines in the Florida Statutes Section 943.051(3)(b).
  • Information, indictment, or other charging documents were filed in the case that is the subject of the expungement, the case was later dismissed, or the case was the subject of a nolle prosequi
  • There are no other sealed or expunged cases pursued under the laws of Florida
  • No adjudication of guilt or delinquency in the case that is the subject of the expunction request
  • There are no other sealed or expunged petitions bending before any court

What Should I Expect From the Process of Expungement or Sealing in Florida?

After you file the application for the certificate of eligibility with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, it can take between four to six months to receive the certificate stating you are eligible for the process of expungement or sealing. Upon receipt of the eligibility certificate, you then have to petition the court that had jurisdiction over the underlying criminal charge that you are seeking to have sealed or expunged.

It is crucial that you understand whether your record is eligible for expunction or sealing and whether you qualify under Florida law. It is also important that you have realistic expectations about what can and cannot be accomplished if your records are sealed or expunged. An experienced criminal law attorney can help you understand every part of the process and help you set realistic expectations for the future.

The application process can sometimes present complex legal issues, and the help of an experienced attorney can make the process much smoother. The Lopez Law Group has handled both expungements and sealings of criminal records and can help you determine if you are eligible. If so, they can help navigate the process and make sure there are no surprises as you take these steps to rid yourself of the stigma and difficulties that come with having a criminal record.

The application process takes time, money, and effort, so consulting with an experienced attorney before starting the process will give you a much better idea of what to expect and help ensure you have the best chance possible of achieving your goal.

Our team of lawyers at The Lopez Law Group is prepared to assist you throughout the process, so please reach out to us at (727) 933-0015 to schedule a thorough evaluation of your case. We will give you an honest assessment of whether your case qualifies for a possible expungement or sealing, and inform you of the process if you choose to proceed.