• What Are the Benefits of Expunging or Sealing a Criminal Record in Florida?

What Are the Benefits of Expunging or Sealing a Criminal Record in Florida?

Expunging and sealing a criminal record are legal processes that can significantly impact an individual’s future. Expunging involves completely destroying a criminal record, making it as if the arrest or conviction never occurred. Sealing, on the other hand, restricts access to the record, keeping it hidden from public view but still available to certain authorities.

In Florida, expunging or sealing a criminal record is crucial for those looking to regain control of their lives. It allows individuals to move past previous mistakes and focus on building a better future. The guidance of a criminal defense attorney makes this process easier and more successful.

Benefits of Expunging or Sealing a Criminal Record

Improved Employment Prospects: Employers often conduct background checks. A clean record can enhance job opportunities.

Passing a Background Search: Knowing that your past is not easily accessible provides significant relief and helps in reducing stigma.

Avoiding Stigma of the Arrest: Once the record is sealed or expunged, you can avoid the embarrassment of people being able to find your record.

Being Able to Rent: Passing a background check for an apartment or any type of rental is a big deal. Most large rental companies will disqualify you if you have a record.

Getting into School: Most schools will run a background check on you prior to being accepted.

Enhanced Opportunities for Employment and Education

Background checks often pose significant challenges for job applicants and students with criminal records. According to recent studies, approximately 87% of employers conduct background checks during the hiring process. This scrutiny can severely limit employment opportunities for individuals with past convictions.

Expunging or sealing a criminal record can be transformative. By effectively removing these records from public access, individuals can present themselves without the burden of past mistakes. This change allows applicants to honestly state that they have no criminal record on job applications, dramatically increasing their chances of securing employment.

In the realm of education opportunities, many colleges and universities also perform background checks. A clear record can thus open doors to higher education that might otherwise remain closed. Students with expunged or sealed records are more likely to gain admission and qualify for scholarships and financial aid.

Privacy Protection and Peace of Mind

Sealing and expunging a criminal record offer distinct levels of privacy and accessibility. When a record is sealed, it is placed in a secured envelope, inaccessible to the public but still retained by law enforcement agencies and the courthouse. Expunging a record involves its physical destruction, with only the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) retaining a confidential copy.

Difference Between Sealing and Expunging

Sealing

Records are not publicly accessible.

Maintained in secure files by law enforcement and courthouses.

Removed from public databases.

Expunging

Records are physically destroyed.

Only FDLE retains a confidential copy.

No public or institutional access.

Enhancing Privacy and Reducing Stigma

Having a record sealed or expunged significantly enhances an individual’s privacy. By removing records from public view, individuals can avoid the stigma associated with past convictions. This reduction in visibility helps:

Prevent potential employers from discovering past records during background checks.

Allow individuals to truthfully state that they have no criminal record in most situations.

Confidentiality Maintained by Key Agencies

Law enforcement, the Department of Education, and relevant bodies must:

Secure sealed records from unauthorized access.

Remove expunged records, keeping only the FDLE’s confidential copy.

Understanding these protections helps individuals decide on sealing or expungement to control their personal information.

The Process of Clearing Your Record in Florida

1. Eligibility Requirements

Determining eligibility for sealing or expungement is the first crucial step. Key factors include:

Juvenile delinquency: No adjudication of delinquency in juvenile court.

Previous sealing/expungement: Applicants must not have had a record previously sealed or expunged.

Eligible charges: Only specific charges under Florida law qualify.

2. Common Disqualifying Factors

Certain factors can disqualify applicants from sealing or expunging their records:

Convictions for certain offenses, such as sexual crimes or violent felonies.

History of juvenile delinquency.

Court-ordered supervision or probation still in effect.

3. Step-by-Step Legal Process

1. Application to FDLE:

Submit an application to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE).

Include fingerprinting and a $75 fee.

Obtain a certified case disposition.

2. Certificate of Eligibility:

FDLE reviews the application and issues a Certificate of Eligibility if requirements are met.

3. Court Petition:

File a petition with the court after receiving the Certificate of Eligibility.

Include necessary documents and legal arguments supporting the request for expungement or sealing.

4. Role of Authorities and Agencies

Law enforcement agencies, courts, and the FDLE play key roles in reviewing applications:

FDLE: Reviews initial applications and issues Certificates of Eligibility.

Courts: Evaluate petitions and make final decisions on whether to grant record clearance.

Other Agencies: Maintain confidentiality of sealed or expunged records, ensuring they remain inaccessible to unauthorized parties.

Understanding these steps helps streamline the process and increases the likelihood of successfully clearing your record.

Other Benefits and Considerations

Additional Advantages

Having a criminal record sealed or expunged offers numerous advantages beyond employment and education:

Increased Housing Options: Landlords often conduct background checks. A sealed or expunged record can significantly enhance rental opportunities.

Professional Licensure: Many professional boards perform detailed background checks. Clearing your record can open doors to licenses in fields such as healthcare, law, and finance.

Exceptions and Limitations

While sealing or expunging a record offers significant benefits, there are exceptions where disclosure may still be required:

Sensitive Occupations: Certain jobs, particularly those involving children or vulnerable populations, may still require disclosure of sealed or expunged records.

Government Licensing: Agencies involved in public safety or national security may access cleared records. This includes positions within law enforcement or the Department of Education.

Supporting Rehabilitation

Clearing a criminal record isn’t just about removing barriers; it’s also about fostering personal growth:

Fresh Start: The process allows individuals to re-enter society with a clean slate, encouraging lawful behavior.

Rehabilitation Efforts: Record clearance complements rehabilitation programs by reducing stigma and providing tangible opportunities for reintegration into the community.

Understanding these benefits underscores the importance of pursuing record expungement or sealing in Florida.

What Kinds of Convictions Can Be Sealed or Expunged?

Misdemeanor convictions, including Level 6 or Class D felonies reduced to misdemeanors, can be expunged after 5 years, or sooner with prosecutor consent based on criminal history and offense nature. Two separate felony convictions involving a deadly weapon make you ineligible for misdemeanor expungement.

Lower-level felonies like Level 6 or Class D require an 8-year wait, unless the prosecutor consents to earlier expungement. Other felonies need an 8-year wait from conviction or 3 years from sentence completion, whichever is later.

You cannot seek expungement if you are an elected official convicted in office, designated as a sex or violent offender, convicted of a felony causing bodily injury, perjury, misconduct, murder, sex trafficking, rape, child molesting, or have two felonies involving a deadly weapon.

For those with felony exclusions (elected officials convicted in office or felonies causing serious injury), you must wait 10 years from conviction or 5 years from sentence completion to pursue expungement.

Consult a knowledgeable attorney to understand eligibility and qualifications for expungement based on your circumstances.

Expert Guidance from a Criminal Defense Attorney in the Expungement/Sealing Process

Seeking the right legal counsel after an incident is crucial. This is because legal issues can be serious and have a significant impact on your life. Having an experienced attorney to guide you can make a big difference in understanding and dealing with legal claims. Criminal Defense Attorney Sean K. McQuaid specializes in helping clients navigate this intricate process, offering support and expertise every step of the way.

Defending Your Rights

Our Criminal Defense Attorneys have been successfully defending people charged with crimes and traffic offenses for over 66 years. Given our vast experience and substantial connections, our firm is reasonably priced for the quality of legal services that we provide. Our lawyers are highly respected by the courts and we want to be able to help.

For more information please contact one of our Criminal Defense Attorneys today to schedule a free consultation. We have three convenient locations in Pinellas County and Hillsborough County to better serve you.

St Petersburg Criminal Defense Attorney

5858 Central Ave suite

St. Petersburg, FL 33707

727) 381-2300

St Petersburg Criminal Defense Attorney – Downtown Office

136 4th St N #2233-B

St. Petersburg, FL 33701

(727) 381-2300

Riverview Criminal Defense Attorney

12953 US-301 #102c

Riverview, FL 33578

(813) 639-8111

Sean McQuaid