In today’s tech-savvy society, an arrest is no longer easily kept secret. Employers, nosy neighbors and family members, and even potential dating partners can easily discover your mugshot in a simple web search, and you may not be given the opportunity to explain the circumstances that led up to your arrest.
However, in Florida, certain criminal records—including mugshots and other arrest records—may be eligible for sealing or expungement. These processes can conceal these otherwise public records from public view, giving you the opportunity for a fresh start. Learn more about the differences between record sealing and record expungement and a few of the questions you’ll want to ask your Florida record sealing lawyer.
Although these processes can each hide criminal records from the public, the list of individuals who have access to criminal records after a sealing or expungement—and those who qualify for each process—can be different.
Sealing a criminal record conceals it from public view but makes it available to certain law enforcement agencies and regulatory agencies upon request. So while your record won’t show up on a background check your employer runs, it may be used against you if you’re arrested or prosecuted again, and will be a factor to consider if you apply for a firearm license, seek certification as a teacher or daycare worker, or even apply for a passport.
Meanwhile, expunging a record destroys all copies of the criminal file except one, which is retained by the state’s highest law enforcement agency. Although police departments will still have limited access to an expunged record, in all other respects, it’s as though the criminal charge never existed.
It’s important to seek legal advice before you try to have a record sealed or expunged. Both processes can be complicated, and failure to adhere to each of the rules and regulations that govern sealing and expungement could result in the denial of your petition. In some cases, this denial can be “with prejudice,” which means you won’t be able to re-file a petition in the future.
Some of the questions you may want to ask your attorney include:
The term “criminal record” can mean different things to different people. If you have one arrest and no convictions in your past, the “criminal record” you’ll have sealed is your arrest record. Meanwhile, if you’ve been
convicted of a crime but a guilty adjudication was withheld, the record you’d want to have sealed would be your conviction record.
The process you choose will largely depend on the contents of your arrest or conviction record and how many (if any) offenses qualify for sealing or expungement.
In most cases, the process of sealing a criminal record can take up to 6 months. Before your sealing request can be granted, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) must run a background check to ensure there aren’t any other criminal convictions in your past, and this process can sometimes take some time. Your attorney should be able to give you a more detailed estimate on how long you can expect to wait after filing a petition to seal your criminal record.
Under current Florida law, you’re only permitted to seal or expunge a single arrest in your lifetime. But if you have multiple arrests that all pertain to the “original” arrest (for example, an arrest for driving on a suspended license after an arrest for driving under the influence), you can bundle these arrests together and have them all sealed as one.