Yes, in Florida, under certain conditions, you can petition to have an arrest or criminal charge removed from your criminal record. The process, known as expungement, seals the record, making it inaccessible to the general public. However, specific eligibility criteria must be met to proceed with the process.
Expunging a Conviction in Florida
What Is Florida’s Eligibility for Expungement?
To be eligible for expungement in Florida, you typically must not have been adjudicated guilty of any crime (this includes juvenile offenses). If you were found guilty or pleaded guilty or no contest to the charges, you might be ineligible.
When an individual is found guilty or pleads guilty or no contest (nolo contendere) to charges, it typically means they’ve accepted some degree of responsibility for the crime or the court has determined their guilt based on the evidence presented.
The underlying philosophy behind expungement policies is to provide relief to individuals who were either:
- Wrongly accused: The charges were dropped, or they were found not guilty.
- Have shown they’ve met certain conditions: For example, successfully completing a pre-trial diversion program or having charges dismissed after satisfying specific requirements.
Here are some reasons why a guilty verdict or a plea of guilty or no contest might render someone ineligible for expungement:
- Public Safety: The state might believe that individuals who were found guilty or accepted guilt should not have their records hidden from public view, as it could pose a potential risk to the community.
- Accountability: The criminal record stands as a testament to one’s past actions and the consequences thereof. By expunging a conviction, the state could be seen as eliminating a form of accountability.
- Deterrence: The permanent nature of a criminal record can serve as a deterrent to future criminal behavior. The possibility of expungement might reduce this deterrent effect.
- Justice and Victim Considerations: Victims of crimes might feel that expunging a conviction minimizes the gravity of the crime and could compromise the justice they feel was served.
- Integrity of the Legal System: Allowing expungement for convictions might be seen as undermining the integrity and finality of the legal system’s decisions.
Additionally, you cannot have a prior expungement or sealing on your record. There’s also usually a waiting period after the completion of your sentence, probation, or any other court-mandated conditions before you can apply for expungement.
In Florida, the ability to expunge or seal criminal records often hinges on the nature of the relief one is seeking and the specific details of the offense in question. The process typically begins with obtaining a certificate of eligibility from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). For those who were arrested but not convicted, expungement may be an option.
To pursue this route, several conditions need to be met:
- The individual must not have any prior adjudications of guilt or delinquency related to any felony or certain misdemeanors.
- Certain crimes, notably sexual offenses, are typically exempt from expungement.
- There’s a requisite waiting period of at least one year from the date of arrest or the date the criminal charges were filed, whichever is later. This means that if your case was dismissed or dropped before one year passed from your arrest or charge date, you still have to wait until one year elapses before applying for expungement.
Meanwhile, people who received withheld adjudications for specific offenses might be eligible to have their records sealed rather than expunged. To be considered for this, it’s crucial to have completed all court-mandated sanctions tied to the charge in question.
Additionally, a waiting period is in effect here, too; the waiting period is one year from the date of sentencing or disposition of the case, whichever is later. This means that if you completed your probation or other conditions before one year passed from your sentencing or disposition date, you still have to wait until one year elapses before applying for sealing. Notably, for those who’ve successfully sealed a record and maintained a clean slate for at least 10 years thereafter, an opportunity arises to have that record expunged.
What Charges Cannot Be Expunged in Florida?
Florida has specific offenses that cannot be expunged, regardless of whether adjudication was withheld. Such offenses include but aren’t limited to driving under the influence (DUI), sex crimes, assault and battery, drug trafficking, and burglary. If an individual was charged with any of these offenses, the chances of getting the record expunged are generally slim.
The rationale behind why certain offenses in Florida are not eligible for expungement, even if adjudication was withheld, often ties back to the gravity of the offense, the potential risk to public safety, and the state’s intent to protect its citizens.
- Driving Under the Influence (DUI): DUIs involve endangering not only the driver’s life but also the lives of others on the road. Due to the potential for serious or fatal accidents and the repeated nature of DUI offenses among some individuals, the state views DUIs as serious offenses that should remain on record to deter future incidents and alert law enforcement to repeat offenders.
- Sex Crimes: Crimes of a sexual nature often leave lasting trauma on victims. The societal view of these offenses is that they are particularly heinous. By making expungement difficult or impossible, the state aims to protect potential future victims by ensuring that individuals convicted of or charged with such crimes are readily identifiable by law enforcement.
- Assault and Battery: These offenses involve direct harm or threat of harm to others. The state wants to ensure that individuals with a history of violence are easily identifiable to law enforcement and other relevant entities to prevent future incidents and protect potential victims.
- Drug Trafficking: Drug trafficking contributes to a wide range of societal issues, including addiction, violence, and other related crimes. It’s not just about the sale of drugs but often involves organized criminal activities. By keeping these charges on a person’s record, the state seeks to deter involvement in drug trafficking and to provide law enforcement with necessary information on individuals involved in larger criminal networks.
- Burglary: Burglary crimes involve entering another’s property with the intent to commit theft or another felony. It’s a violation of personal space and can result in trauma for victims who feel their safety and security have been compromised. The state wants to deter individuals from committing these acts and ensure that those with a history of such violations are known to law enforcement.
The inability to expunge these specific offenses from one’s record in Florida is rooted in the state’s efforts to deter the recurrence of serious crimes, protect its citizens, and provide law enforcement with the tools and information they need to maintain public safety.
How Much Does It Cost to Expunge a Record in Florida?
The cost to expunge a record in Florida can vary based on several factors, including court fees, fingerprinting charges, and other associated expenses. The application fee for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) certification was $75. This does not include potential attorney fees or additional court costs.
How to Petition for an Order of Expungement in Florida?
- Obtain a certificate of eligibility from the FDLE. This involves submitting an application, getting fingerprinted, and providing the disposition of the charge you wish to have expunged.
- Once you receive the certificate of eligibility, you can file a petition for expungement with the court that handled your case.
- The petition generally requires supporting documents, including the certificate of eligibility, an affidavit stating you meet the criteria for expungement, and potentially other relevant documents.
- If the court approves the petition, it will issue an order of expungement.
What Happens After You Expunge Your Record in Florida?
Once your record is expunged in Florida, it’s sealed from most public entities. You can legally deny or fail to acknowledge the arrests covered by the sealed record in most situations. However, certain government or related entities, like criminal justice agencies, may still access the expunged records in specific circumstances.
Should I Consult an Attorney to Expunge My Criminal Record in Florida?
Absolutely. Consulting an attorney will ensure you understand your eligibility, the necessary steps, and the implications of the process. If you’re considering expungement, find a seasoned Florida expungement lawyer through LegalMatch to guide you every step of the way.
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