If you have a criminal record, you are probably well aware of the various issues that can arise. And you know that we are not talking about small issues or minor annoyances. Instead, a criminal record can have a negative impact on a number of key areas of your life.
For example, your record might become an issue when you try to rent an apartment or home. It could be an obstacle to qualifying for some professional licenses. It can even make it more difficult to land a new job. Any and all of these issues can prevent you from accomplishing your goals and improving your life. It is only natural to wish there were some way to keep your record from the past from interfering in your present and future.
Depending on the crime in question, living with a criminal record may just be something you have to deal with. But in Florida, there are in fact cases in which you can request that your criminal record be sealed or expunged. If the request is granted, your record will seldom, if ever, come up in any of the situations mentioned above. As a rule, members of the general public won’t be able to access your criminal history at all—and Florida law allows you to “deny or fail to acknowledge” any criminal record that has been sealed or expunged.
What Does it Mean to Have Your Criminal Record Sealed?
If your criminal record is sealed, only specific government agencies will be allowed to view the information. Under Florida law, those agencies include, unsurprisingly, the court system and law enforcement agencies.
What Does it Mean to Have Your Criminal Record Expunged?
“Expungement” is a fairly dramatic word for a fairly dramatic result. If a court agrees that your record should be expunged, the entire record must physically be destroyed in all locations except for a single copy held by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. That copy can only be viewed by appropriate parties who have been granted a court order to do so.
Who Is Eligible and What Is the Process for Sealing or Expungement?
While records related to a range of serious crimes (including homicide, kidnapping, and more) are not eligible for sealing, if a lesser crime is in question, you can ask to have your criminal record sealed if you were not convicted of a crime (or if the question of your guilt was not adjudicated). If, however, you have had previous records sealed or expunged—or if there is a pending petition to do so—you are not eligible to have the same processes applied to any additional records.
To have your record expunged, your situation generally needs to fall into one of three categories: charges against you were never filed, charges against you were dismissed, or your record has been sealed for 10 years.
To start the process, you must file an application for what is known as a certificate of eligibility with the Florida Department of Law. This is more than a simple request form. It requires, for example, a certified copy of the final disposition of your case. It also requires a full set of your fingerprints.
In the event that the Department of Law Enforcement grants you a certificate of eligibility, you must file your petition to have your records sealed or expunged with the court that originally handled your case. You must also provide a copy of the petition to the arresting agency and the prosecutor. The court then rules on your petition.
Let Flaherty & Merrifield See You Through the Process
As you have probably gathered, getting your records sealed or expunged can be a lengthy and complicated process. The lawyers of Flaherty & Merrifield Criminal Defense understand the ins and outs of eligibility and petition completion. Navigating the system is far easier with a skilled attorney by your side. If you have a criminal record that has been haunting you, contact us today to see what your options are for having it sealed or expunged.