Florida provides a limited opportunity to seal and or expunge criminal records. The good news is not as good as one would hope and the bad news is a deal breaker. Here’s what is going on…
First: sealing and expunging doesn’t erase your arrest or the result. It doesn’t eliminate your biggest issue: getting it off of Google. The State of Florida will permit you to seal and or expunge but only if it is a non-violent crime, and only once. The list is very long and includes any crime involving children, seniors, crimes of dishonesty and a long list which you can get by viewing the statute. But, even if you get the State to seal or expunge, it doesn’t disappear. Any state agency can get at it, all law enforcement, any Federal agency, any employer where you are working with children, seniors, or people with mental disabilities. Worse still, it only applies to records kept by the State, it doesn’t apply to records kept by non-State entities. For example, when I Google your name it will always come up on any website that dumped the arrest: which is all of them. So if we get your records sealed and you apply for a job, a loan, a rental, a credit card: they will find it on a search engine.
The sealing and expunging gives you, under the Statutes (Florida Statute §943.0585 & Florida Statute §943.059), the right to say that the event didn’t occur, but not really, it says you can say the records were expunged: which is as a practical matter useless. Worse still, if anyone has looked online and asks you if you have any criminal event in your history and you deny it…game over. It is your lack of candor that will harm you and probably more than the actual fact that you were arrested or convicted. What to do???
First: understand the very limited advantage you get with a sealing and expunging. You get the moral high-ground to say that you are so concerned with your record that you sought to have it sealed and expunged. Second, know that it will never go away: like a bell cannot be “un-rung”.
My advice is to relax and know that arrests and convictions have become so common in our society that most companies have to deal with the fact that a high percentage of Americans have a criminal history and so you can realize that having a record is not always a deal breaker. Just acknowledge that you have a criminal event in your history, that you have changed and are now a better person and that you want them to know so they don’t think you’re hiding anything. If you interviewed me you would be okay with getting past the fact that I had an arrest and look at the whole person. An employer interviewing 20 people will find that a majority have a crime in their background and that is the reality of our times.
The process: first sent a fee to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and they will respond by telling you that your record is, or is not, eligible for sealing and or expunging. Step two: file a motion in your local circuit court for a sealing and expunging. You will get a case number and a judge. Next: the State Attorney has to be approached and asked if they have a position either opposing or not opposing. Next: get a court hearing date and then a Judge will either grant or deny your petition. Once granted then you send it to FDLE and they will, in about three months, seal and expunge. They don’t notify you when it’s done and you get nothing formal. Most people need a lawyer to help them through the process which, years ago was much simpler, but now requires two court hearings and a motion in written form to get it done.
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