Although nearly one in three American adults have some sort of criminal record, the consequences of a criminal conviction can be far-reaching. You may find yourself unable to get certain jobs, rent an apartment, or legally possess a firearm if you have a felony conviction in your past, even if this conviction is decades old and marks a period from which you’ve moved on.
But Florida’s record expungement law can help give you a clean start. Under this law, certain criminal arrests and convictions can be erased from your record so that they no longer show up on a background check. Read on to learn more about the types of offenses that are eligible for expungement and what you’ll need to know before you begin.
Although these two terms are often used interchangeably, they’re actually quite different. Record sealing involves the concealment of certain criminal arrests or convictions from public view, which means that someone who runs a criminal background check won’t return any “hits” on your name. However, a sealed criminal record can be disclosed if you apply for employment with certain public safety organizations (like a state or local police department), buy a firearm, apply for a concealed carry permit, or seek licensing as a teacher or childcare worker.
Meanwhile, expungement erases this conviction as though it had never existed. After an expungement is granted, any records relating to this conviction are destroyed, with only a single copy of your record retained by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). Having an expungement granted means that you can legally and honestly answer “no” to the question “have you ever been convicted of a crime?”
Expungement isn’t just available for convictions, either. If you’ve been arrested on charges that were later dropped, expungement can provide you with a way to erase this arrest record and move forward with a clean slate.
Because expungement essentially erases any eligible criminal convictions in your past, it’s not available for all charges. Some of the convictions for which expungement is unavailable, even if an adjudication of guilt was withheld, include:
On the other hand, most non-violent offenses that don’t involve injury to people or property may qualify for expungement. Some of the most commonly-expunged crimes include driving under the influence, possession of certain drugs (without intent to sell), and fraud.
The expungement process can be complex, and much depends on how your original offense was adjudicated. For example, if you pleaded guilty or no contest to a crime and an adjudication of guilt was not withheld, this record may be more appropriate for sealing than expungement. Your guilty plea and adjudication operate as an admission of guilt, which makes courts reluctant to later erase this presumptively-valid conviction.
On the other hand, if your criminal charges were dismissed or the record you want expunged has already been sealed for 10 years, expungement may be a viable option. In some cases, your attorney may help you seal certain offenses so that they can be eligible for expungement later.
And because expungement is available just once in a lifetime, it’s important to do it right the first time. Failing to expunge all eligible arrest or conviction records on your first try could leave you without any recourse later, so you should consult an attorney before you begin the process to ensure you’re following all applicable rules and statutes.