Florida Expungements and Sealings
Frequently Asked Questions
Information provided by Eric J. Dirga, P.A., Orlando - Statewide Service
Last Updated: August 21, 2016
Answers to Your Questions About Florida Expungements
Q1. How do I qualify to SEAL my criminal record in Florida?
A1. Arrests for specified offenses resulting in a finding of guilt by the court may be sealable under Florida Law.
First, the court must have withheld the adjudication of guilt. In Florida you can be found guilty but not be convicted. This is the withholding of the adjudication (see what is a conviction in Florida).
Second, the offense cannot be a prohibited offense by statute.
Those conditions and the requirement that you have never been adjudicated guilty (convicted) of any other crime or have had any other Florida arrest sealed or expunged will qualify you to have your criminal arrest record sealed.
KEY POINTS: An adjudication of guilt will prevent you from being able to expunge or seal any criminal record (See Question #15 for definition of adjudicated guilty). In Florida, the courts can withhold adjudication (also known as "adjudication withheld," and "withhold of adjudication") and thereby maintain your eligibility to have your record sealed or expunged.
Q2. How do I qualify to expunge a Florida criminal record?
A2. All arrests that result in a dismissal or nolle prosequi (State drops case) prior to trial can be expunged so long as you have never been adjudicated guilty or delinquent for any other arrest. This means all prior arrests must have also been dropped or had adjudication withheld. The expungement process can begin immediately after your case is closed.
KEY POINTS: Florida law now prohibits a person that was acquitted after a trial to expunge their arrest record.In that situation you must
seal your record first. There are two exceptions to this. If you were acquitted based on self-defense or you were the victim of Human Trafficking.
Q3. My case was dropped. Why does it still show up?"
A3. Many people believe that if their case was dropped or dismissed they don't have a record. This is inaccurate. A criminal record begins once you've been formally arrested or, today, once the Clerk creates a case number. These records are public records. The case may have been dropped, dismissed, or nolle prosequi but your criminal arrest history remains. Anyone who checks your past can discover that you were arrested.
KEY POINT ONE: Even if you were not formally arrested but were instead given a notice to appear you may still have a criminal arrest history. How? Private companies buy public record information from government agencies such as the Clerks Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. These private companies store and sell your information to whoever wants to buy it. This includes your criminal record.
KEY POINT TWO: When reviewing a criminal record history the term adjudication withheld may not be used. Instead the initials AW or WH may be substituted. Adjudicated guilty is hardly ever used. Instead the term convicted or guilty is used.
Q4. What is the difference between sealing and expunging a criminal record?
A4. This is a complicated answer so I have dedicated an entire page to it at The Differences Between an Expungement and Sealing in Florida.
Q5. Who can see expunged criminal records in Florida?
A5. Both an expungement and a sealing of records require the court, state attorney, and the law enforcement agencies to remove all information regarding the arrest from the public view. A Court Order is necessary before a court record can be unsealed after a sealing or expungement has taken place. After a record has been sealed or expunged the person can lawfully deny the arrest occurred. However, there are several exceptions to the ability to deny the arrest. I have those exceptions listed on my exceptions page.
KEY POINTS: The difference between sealing and expunging is small. However, one or the other has to be done before any protections will apply. The actual difference concerns how the affected agencies must deal with your records - whether they must be destroyed (expunged) or made confidential (sealed).
Q6. Is there a time requirement before I can seal or expunge my Florida criminal arrest history (criminal record)?
A6. No. So long as your case is completed your criminal record history can be sealed or expunged. Your disposition is completed when you are no longer under any supervisory conditions of the court (your probation is completed).
KEY POINTS: But the State can have you waive your ability to have your record sealed or expunged. Usually this occurs if you agree to enter a pretrial diversion program. Usually the delay is a few years and each pretrial diversion contract should be read thoroughly before signing.
Q7. I pled to an offense. Can I still have the criminal record expunged?
A7. You cannot have it expunged because it was not dropped or dismissed prior to trial. However you may qualify to have your case sealed if adjudication was withheld.
KEY POINTS: Even if you pled guilty or no contest to an offense you may still be able to seal your criminal record. Sealing provides the same protections as expungements.
Q8. Can I seal or expunge my Florida criminal record on my own?
A8. Yes. You can always represent yourself. However, no one but an attorney can give you legal advice regarding the procedures and law of a sealing or expungement. The opposing party on a criminal record sealing or expungement petition is the State of Florida represented by the Office of the State Attorney.
KEY POINTS: If time is of the essence - hire an attorney. Expunging a criminal record takes on average 6 to 9 months. There are very easy mistakes that can be made that can quickly double the amount of time.
Q9. Once started how long does an expungement take for the criminal record to be removed from public view?
A9. This is a good question. It can take several months from starting the process to completion. It depends upon the staffing of the agencies that are part of the process. Currently, the average time from start to finish is between 6 and 9 months. Bottom line: Don't delay.
KEY POINTS: Once the Order has been processed your record is no longer a public record. However, right now there are private companies that collect "public" records to sell. It takes them about 6-12 months to cycle through the system and remove your criminal record once it has been sealed or expunged.
Q10. What if FDLE denies my application for a "Certificate of Eligibility?"
A10. There are legitimate reasons FDLE would deny a Certificate of Eligibility. They may deny it because the offense is barred from being expunged or sealed or it may be denied due to a procedural error that may be correctable.
If you are denied a Certificate of Eligibility you must determine if the reason is correctable. FDLE does make mistakes. The FDLE will issue a Certificate of Eligibility once the error is corrected.
Q11. Why should I hire your law Office over another?
A11. We always suggest that you consult with several attorneys. We are comfortable handling these cases and we will see if you qualify before taking our fee.
Q12. Are Juvenile criminal records automatically expunged?
A12. Yes and no. All juvenile records are not public records. If a juvenile commits a non-violent crime and commits no further criminal act then at age 24 the juvenile record is destroyed and therefore technically expunged. However, the FDLE has interpreted the law in such a way that for many years they have been selling juvenile records to private companies. Even though a juvenile record is not a public record in Florida, the companies that buy the information will sell it to employers and others that pay for their services.
The good thing is that now the legislature allows for juveniles to expunge records that go through diversion programs without using up that persons one "sealing" or "expungement." This process must be commenced within 12 months of completion of the diversion program.
Q13. How many times can a person have his or her Florida criminal record expunged or sealed?
A13. Under Florida law only one arrest or series of arrests related to a single bad act - unless he/she had a record expunged as a juvenile through a diversion program. Additionally, mistaken arrests may be administratively expunged without using your one opportunity.
KEY POINT: Florida law only restricts expungements and sealings done in this state. You can still have had an expungement outside the State of Florida.
Q14. Can Florida driving records be sealed or expunged?
A14. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is only responsible for the records they maintain, as are the other law enforcement agencies that receive a seal or expunge Order from the court. However, by statute, these agencies are required to forward said Order to other agencies that they know have information regarding the particular arrest. Although there is no case on point, an Order to Seal or Expunge a criminal record for a traffic offense should have in it a requirement that a copy be sent to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles main office in Tallahassee. The DMV may deny this and therefore it may be necessary to pursue it further.
Q15. What is the difference between "adjudicated guilty" and "adjudication withheld?" or What is the Definition of "adjudicated guilty."
A15. When you enter a plea to an offense the judge can either adjudicate you guilty (if an adult), adjudicate you delinquent (if a juvenile), or "withhold adjudication" of guilt or delinquency. Only charges that were either dropped or had a "withhold of adjudication" can be expunged or sealed (see what is a conviction in Florida).
In Florida a defendant can be found guilty of an offense but not be convicted of it. When a judge withholds adjudication of guilt the defendant is not convicted although he or she is still found to be guilty of the offense. Being found guilty does not, in and of itself, mean you were adjudicated guilty/delinquent.
A judge can find you guilty of an offense and in doing so order you to serve probation and require you to complete certain requirements such as community service. So long as the judge withholds the adjudication of guilt you are not convicted of the offense. Offenses that have adjudication withheld may be eligible for sealing.
Offenses that were dropped or dismissed can be expunged.
An offense that you have been convicted of (adjudicated guilty) cannot be sealed or expunged.
KEY POINT: The best way to determine if you have had the "adjudication of guilt" withheld is to look at your final disposition paperwork from the Clerk of Court. You should have received this when you case was resolved. If you do not have it we can get it for you.
Q16. Why should I bother sealing or expunging my Florida criminal record now?
A16. The law that regulates the qualifications for getting your criminal record sealed or expunged is determined at the time that you petition the court. This means that the offense you were arrested for 10 years ago that may have been eligible to be sealed or expunged at the time of your arrest may be prohibited from this relief next year due to a change in the law.
The legislature in Florida has continually limited who and what can be sealed or expunged by amending the current statute. The expungement statute has been amended at least 7 times since 1992 and the sealing statute has been amended 6 times in the same period of time. By waiting all you do is increase the risk that your criminal record will become ineligible to seal or expunge.
Q17. What happens to the records of private companies that sell a criminal record that has been sealed or expunged?
A17. Those companies do not receive the order from the court. Some will remove the information on their own. Others may need a copy of the order which we provide to you. Others may not care. This is why the law allows you to deny that the arrest has occurred.
The purpose of publishing this information is to help judges, attorneys and non-lawyers better understand this area of law. We appreciate any input that may further this goal.
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