What Charges can be Sealed or Expunged in Florida?

April 14, 2020 Seal or Expunge Criminal Record

seal and expunge laws in florida

**The information on this page is for informational purposes. This area of criminal defense is not practiced by the attorneys at Pumphrey Law. Please click here to locate an attorney in your area.**

Sealing and expunging of records in the state of Florida is a statutory mechanism that prevents public access to records pertaining to a criminal history and the benefit of not needing to disclose those records upon most requests. The State of Florida – beginning in 1995 – enacted what is colloquially referred to as the “Sunshine Law,” technically a misnomer as it encompasses a series of laws. The series of laws guarantee public access to all non-sensitive records pertaining to any government entity in the state of Florida. This is fantastic for citizens of Florida seeking to find information on state or local governance for accountability or looking into the records of truly dangerous criminals. The law can be a horrible roadblock however for those who’ve made a simple mistake or were falsely accused. Under Florida Statute Section 943.053(3), criminal history is open to the public. In order to remedy this disparity, the State of Florida enacted Florida Statutes Sections 943.0585 and 943.059 to introduce court ordered expunging and sealing, respectively.

Many people don’t know that the criminal record stays even if they are found to be not guilty or the charges are dropped. A search will reveal that you have had criminal charges alleged against you and it will describe the crime committed. Other documents such as the arrest affidavit may be available for public viewing. Records are not automatically expunged for pardons or clemency. Nor are the records expunged when you successfully complete a pretrial diversion program.

Florida Sealing and Expunging Information Center

  • Sealing Vs. Expungement
  • Sealed and Expunged Eligibility

The Process to Expunge or Seal

  • Juvenile Expungement
  • Automatic (or Early) Juvenile Expungement
  • Lawful Self-Defense Expungement
  • Human Trafficking Expungement
  • Automatic Sealing
  • Administrative Expungement for Arrests made Contrary to law or by mistake
  • Entitled Entities

Sealing Vs. Expunging

Expunging and Sealing are very similar in execution, both the procedural requirements and the end result. The process will be outlined below, but the purpose of each is to prevent the public from accessing all records tied to the record in question.

Expungement is essentially the destruction and deletion of all records, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) will keep a confidential record for extremely limited purposes, but even entities who can normally see anything in the criminal justice system will instead receive word the individual’s criminal record has been expunged. Florida Statutes Section 943.045(13) defines expunction (a synonym for expungement) as: “the court-ordered physical destruction or obliteration of a record or portion of a record by any criminal justice agency having custody thereof, or as prescribed by the court issuing the order, except that criminal history records in the custody of the department must be retained in all cases for purposes of evaluating subsequent requests by the subject of the record for sealing or expunction, or for purposes of recreating the record in the event an order to expunge is vacated by a court of competent jurisdiction.”

Sealing is a little bit different, it does not delete or destroy any information but instead places it under government protection. There is no public disclosure of the record, and it is considered confidential, but the courts and criminal justice system generally still have access to them. Florida Statutes Section 943.045(14) defines sealing as: “the preservation of a record under such circumstances that it is secure and inaccessible to any person not having a legal right of access to the record or the information contained and preserved therein.”

If you have been charged with or arrested for – but not convicted – of a crime, you may be eligible to have your record sealed or expunged. The process to have a record sealed or expunged is long and complicated, and an experienced Florida criminal defense lawyer experienced in the process can help guide you through the complex procedure to seal or expunge your criminal record.

Sealed and Expunged Eligibility

There are many charges that cannot be sealed or expunged and convictions that would make someone ineligible for court-ordered sealing or expungement. Florida Statute Section 943.059 cover sealing, Section 943.0585 covers expungement, and Section 943.0584 covers criminal history records that are ineligible for court-ordered sealing or expungement.

In addition, a case can only be expunged if:

  • If the case was dismissed, OR
  • There was no other Indictment, Information or charging document filed in the case.

There are additional requirements for sealing a case. A case can only be sealed when:

  • There is a probation or community control requirement which has been completed, including any remaining court supervision.

The Process to Expunge or Seal

An attorney is not required to seal or expunge a record, but it is highly recommended to consult with a Florida criminal defense attorney to ensure the process is not needlessly delayed or even potentially denied due to the complicated nature of the process.

The first step is to fill out an application with FDLE. This requires fingerprints and a disposition of the case, which must be certified. This application requires a notarized signature before submission. The State Attorney in the jurisdiction also must complete part of the application if seeking expungement.

There are different types of sealing or expungement relief granted in Florida statutes. The first is described above which is court-ordered sealing or expungement. The following are the other ways to have your records expunged: Juvenile Diversion Expungement, Automatic (and Early) Juvenile Expungement,  Lawful Self-Defense Expungement, Human Trafficking Expungement, Automatic Sealing, and Administrative Expungement for Arrests made Contrary to law or by mistake.

Once FDLE certifies eligibility, you must go to the jurisdiction of the arrest or accusation and file a petition with the local court. Your attorney, or you can obtain the forms for the Petition, Affidavit, and Order from the local Clerk of Courts, but an attorney should have those available. The affidavit requires a signature in front of a notary as well.

All of these forms must then be filed along with the FDLE certificate in that local court and served to the State Attorney’s Office. The date of receipt of the FDLE certificate starts a six-month deadline to complete all of this.

The order to seal or expunge must be approved and signed by a judge, sometimes this can be done without a hearing, but the judge can require a hearing to speak with him directly. The entire process takes about twelve weeks once the completed application is received.

Juvenile Expungement

Recently, DeSantis signed a pill that changes the process for expungement of juvenile records. The bill allows juveniles to expunge their criminal record after they complete a diversion program. The expungement bill allows for many charges to be expunged. The only charges that may not be expunged are forcible felonies. A forcible felony is the use or threat of force against another individual where there is imminent danger of bodily harm. Examples of a forcible felony include the following:

The bill goes into effect on July 1, 2022. The bill will amend Florida Statute Section 943.0582. The bill currently only expunges misdemeanor offenses through diversion programs. The goal of juvenile diversion programs is to give these young people a chance to correct their path. These programs provide treatment and learning opportunities for children rather than serving them with jail time. Learn more about diversion programs in our blog here.

Automatic (or Early) Juvenile Expungement

Under Florida Statute Section 943.0515, juvenile records are automatically expunged when the juvenile turns 21 or if the minor was committed to a juvenile correction facility the records will be expunged when they turn 26. However, certain conditions must be satisfied for automatic expungement. The charges cannot be a forcible felony, and the charges cannot be expunged if the child was transferred to adult court.

Under the same statute, a person between the ages of 18 and 21 may apply for early juvenile expungement. In this circumstance, the application must be supported by the state attorney of the judicial circuit.

Lawful Self-Defense Expungement

Under Florida Statute Section 943.0583, an individual who has been found to have been acting in self-defense is eligible for expungement. Someone can apply for expungement under this statute even if they have a prior criminal history that would ordinarily make them ineligible for expungement.

Human Trafficking Expungement

Under Florida Statute Section 943.0583, a person who is a victim of human trafficking may apply for expungement of a criminal record which resulted from their status as a human trafficking victim.

A victim of human trafficking is defined as a person who was subject to coercion for the purpose of being used in human trafficking. A child under the age of 18 does not need to be coerced to fall under the definition of a victim, they just need to be trafficked.

Under Florida law, Coercion means:

  • Using or threatening to use physical force against any person;
  • Restraining, isolating, confining, or threatening to restrain, isolate, or confine any person without lawful authority and against her or his will;
  • Using lending or other credit methods to establish a debt by any person when labor or services are pledged as a security for the debt, if the value of the labor or services as reasonably assessed is not applied toward the liquidation of the debt, the length and nature of the labor or services are not respectively limited and defined;
  • Destroying, concealing, removing, confiscating, withholding, or possessing any actual or purported passport, visa, or other immigration documents, or any other actual or purported government identification document, of any person;
  • Causing or threatening to cause financial harm to any person;
  • Enticing or luring any person by fraud or deceit; or
  • Providing a controlled substance (Schedule I or Schedule II) to any person for the purpose of exploitation of that person.

Human trafficking means transporting, soliciting, recruiting, harboring, providing, enticing, maintaining, purchasing, patronizing, procuring, or obtaining another person for the purpose of exploitation of that person.

Automatic Sealing

Under Florida Statute Section 943.0595, an individual qualifies for automatic sealing for any charge (excluding forcible felonies) if:

  • No charges are filed,
  • If the charges were dropped (nolle pross),
  • If the charges were dismissed (unless they were dropped due to incompetency),
  • If a not guilty verdict was returned (unless the verdict is not guilty due to insanity), and
  • If the court entered a judgment of acquittal.

Administrative Expungement for Arrests made Contrary to Law or by Mistake

Under Florida Statute Section 943.0581, an individual may apply for expungement if their arrest was made contrary to law or by mistake. The application must be supported by the endorsement of the head of the arresting agency, a designee of the agency, a state attorney, or a designee of the state attorney.

Entitled Entities

Generally, after sealing or expungement of the criminal record, you may lawfully deny or fail to acknowledge the arrests covered by the sealing or expungement. However, if you are subject to the following then may not lawfully deny the arrest:

  • Candidate for employment with a criminal justice agency;
  • Is a defendant in a criminal proceeding;
  • In future petitions for sealing/expungement
  • Candidate for admission to The Florida Bar
  • Is seeking employment or licensing with the Department of Children and Families, the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation within the Department of Education, the Agency for Health Care Administration, the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, the Department of Health, the Department of Elderly Affairs, the Department of Juvenile Justice.
  • Is seeking employment or licensing with the Department of Education
  • Is attempting to purchase a firearm and subject to a criminal history background check under state or federal law;
  • Is seeking to be licensed by the Division of Insurance Agent and Agency Services within the Department of Financial Services;
  • Is seeking to be appointed as a guardian;
  • Is seeking to be licensed by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to carry a concealed weapon or concealed firearm.

When a record is sealed, the entities listed above will receive the sealed arrest event. They will also be informed that the information has been sealed. When the record is expunged the entities (except for entities dealing with firearm sales and licensing) will receive your demographic information and information stating that the criminal record has been expunged. They will not see the details of the arrest, any charges filed, or their disposition. 

Florida Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Don Pumphrey and the firm have years of experience representing defendants in criminal cases and assisting with sealing and expunging procedures. They are dedicated to defending the rights of clients, and they will fight to preserve your rights during a sealing or expunging process. Call (850) 681-7777 or send an online message today to discuss your rights during an open and free consultation with our legal team.

**The information on this page is for informational purposes. This area of criminal defense is not practiced by the attorneys at Pumphrey Law. Please click here to locate an attorney in your area.**

Article updated on June 12th, 2022

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