Life After Release

How to Expunge Your Record in Florida

There’s many reasons you would want to get an arrest off your record, the dark spot always coming up on background checks being one of them. But there’s also the other consequences that come with having a felony, such as losing the right to vote or own a gun, difficulty finding employment and housing, and difficulties with child custody, among the loss of other various rights. However, it isn’t necessarily an easy process to get a felony off your record. Additionally, your criminal history record can contain all documentation of any of your arrests where you were fingerprinted and your depositions or indictments, whether they resulted in a guilty verdict, withheld verdict, acquittal, or dismissal of charges before trial. In Florida, there are several options for either expunging or sealing something on your criminal record, the type of which will vary based on the type of crime committed, who committed it, and the age of the felon. The process will likely cost you time and money, and it may be useful to hire a lawyer to help you with the process.

How to Expunge Your Record in Florida

The first step to receiving an expungement will be applying for a certificate of eligibility to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). This application requires a letter from a state attorney or prosecutor that confirms you are eligible for an expungement and a certified copy of the deposition for the charge you seek to have expunged. You will also have to pay a $75 fee, be fingerprinted by law enforcement, and provide a letter from your attorney if you have one. It will typically take about 90m business days for them to process it and give you an answer. Be sure to get all of the documentation of your charges before having your record expunged, as you may not even be able to access that information yourself after the sealing or expunction.

Within 12 months, you must then submit a petition with the certificate of eligibility and your sworn statement that you, to the best of your knowledge, are eligible for an expungement. It will then be up to the court to determine if your charge will be expunged. If it is granted, the court clerk will send a certified copy of the court order to the State Attorney’s Office or the Statewide Prosecutor’s Office, and they must make the changes within 60 days. They will also notify the arresting agencies, who in turn must send the court order to everyone they released the information to. This could include the FDLE, FBI, Department of Corrections, and Department of Juvenile Justice. If there are any private entities who still have your charge listed, you will have to contact them yourself.

If you receive a denial at any point in the process, they are several reasons that could have contributed to this. These include:

  • You were found guilty of the crime and are an adult
  • You were found guilty of acts stemming from the charge seeking to be expunged
  • You have a prior expungement
  • The crime is one that is disqualifying, which is discussed further in the next section

If you were denied and it wasn’t for one of these reasons, you may be able to file an appeal. However, if you think the decision was made with inaccurate or incomplete information, you will need to go through the process of reviewing and correcting those records.

Who Is Eligible to Expunge Their Record in Florida?

Not all crimes are available for expungement or even being sealed. Additionally, Florida law requires the following in order to be eligible for an expungement in most cases:

  • There was no indictment or other charging document filed in the case
  • If there was an indictment or other charging document, it was dismissed or formally no longer being prosecuted by a state attorney or prosecutor
  • If the case went to trial, the verdict was an acquittal or not guilty
  • The defendant has never been found guilty of a felony or one of the following misdemeanors:
    • Assault or battery
    • Assault on a law enforcement officer, firefighter, or other specified officers
    • Illegal concealed or open carry of a weapon
    • Unlawful possession or discharge of a weapon at a school-sponsored event or on school property
    • Unlawful use of destructive devices or bombs
    • Unlawful possession of a firearm
    • Exposure of sexual organs
    • Arson
    • Petit theft
    • Neglect of a child
    • Cruelty to animals
  • The defendant has never been found guilty of the crime they are trying to get expunged
  • The defendant is no longer under court supervision
  • The defendant has not received an expungement in Florida before

The following crimes are not able to be expunged:

  • Sexual misconduct
  • Illegal use of explosives
  • Terrorism
  • Murder, manslaughter, or homicide
  • Domestic assault or battery
  • Aggravated assault
  • Felony battery, domestic battery by strangulation, or aggravated battery
  • Stalking
  • Luring or enticing a child
  • Human trafficking
  • Kidnapping or false imprisonment
  • Any child sex crimes
  • Arson
  • Burglary of a dwelling
  • Voyeurism
  • Robbery
  • Carjacking
  • Violations of the Communications Fraud Act
  • Elderly abuse
  • Sexual crimes involving the elderly or disabled
  • Aircraft piracy
  • Manufacturing a controlled substance
  • Drug trafficking
  • Any crime that requires registering as a sex offender

Types of Expungement and Sealing Records in Florida

Florida describes court-ordered 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,” and sealing a criminal record is 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.” An expungement is definitely preferable, as it allows the defendant to mark on job applications that they have not been convicted of a crime. However, this isn’t the case with:

  • Being admitted to the Florida Bar
  • Seeking to be licensed by the Division of Insurance Agent and Agency Services within the Department of Financial Services
  • Seeking to be appointed as a guardian
  • When applying to:
    • Criminal justice agencies
    • Department of Children and Family Services
    • Department of Education
    • Department of Juvenile Justice
    • Division of Vocational Rehabilitation within the Department of Education
    • Agency for Health Care Administration
    • Agency for Persons with Disabilities
    • Department of Health
    • Department of Elderly Affairs
    • Agency for Health Care Administration
    • Schools and universities
    • Any district school board
    • Any local governmental entity which licenses child care facilities
    • Any employment where the defendant would have contact with children, the elderly, or the disabled

Additionally, it should be noted that, even if the defendant’s record has been expunged or sealed, their criminal history could possibly still appear on a private database, as well as the FBI database. Government agencies can always view sealed records. Someone searching for a criminal record may also be notified that the record has been expunged or sealed, but not of what the crime was or any other details, and there may be no way to remove all traces of your arrest from the internet.

Depending on the type of crime, circumstances surrounding it, the defendant’s age, and more, defendants may be eligible for the following different types of expungements.

  • Administrative Expungement: When an arrest is made illegally or mistakenly, the defendant may file for an administrative expungement, which comes with several benefits, such as not having to pay any fees, waiving the requirement of not having a prior expunction, and a total destruction of the criminal record. However, it does require a letter or written endorsement on official letterhead from the head of the arresting agency or State Attorney’s Office confirming that the arrest was unlawful or made in error. The request will be reviewed by an Operations & Management Consultant Manager or a Senior Criminal Justice Information Technician with FDLE’s Quality Control Section.
  • Automatic Juvenile Expungement: For one, it may be comforting to know that juvenile records are automatically expunged at the age of 21, or 26 if they served time in a juvenile correctional facility or prison. However, this requires that they not be guilty of a forcible felony, which includes:
    • Treason
    • Murder
    • Manslaughter
    • Sexual battery
    • Carjacking
    • Home-invasion robbery
    • Robbery
    • Burglary
    • Arson
    • Kidnapping
    • Aggravated assault
    • Aggravated battery
    • Aggravated stalking
    • Aircraft piracy
    • Unlawful throwing, placing, or discharging of a destructive device or bomb
    • Any other felony which involves the use or threat of physical force or violence against any individual
  • Early Juvenile Expungement: From the ages of 18 to 21, if the defendant has not committed any crimes in the last five years, they may be eligible to have their record expunged early. They’ll need the written certified statement from the state attorney or prosecutor, a certified disposition, their fingerprints, a $75 fee, and a letter from an attorney if they have one.
  • Juvenile Diversion Expungement: If the defendant is a minor and arrested for a misdemeanor and has completed their diversion program, they can apply for an expungement early as well. This requires a written certified statement from a state attorney or prosecutor and proof that the program was completed, and the defendant is eligible, along with their fingerprints and a letter from their attorney if applicable.
  • Lawful Self-Defense Expungement: If the defendant has their charges dismissed or dropped because it was found to be self-defense, they may be eligible to apply for this type of expunction. It also requires a state attorney or prosecutor certifying that it was self-defense. This requires a written certified statement from a state attorney or prosecutor verifying their eligibility, their fingerprints, a letter from their attorney if applicable, and a $75 fee.
  • Human Trafficking Expungement: If the defendant is a victim of human trafficking, they can apply to have a crime they committed while they were a victim of human trafficking as a result of being a victim to be expunged. This does not require a certificate of eligibility. Those who think they may qualify may contact the Clerk of Court, State Attorney, or Statewide Prosecutor in the county of jurisdiction. The following crimes do not qualify:
    • Arson
    • Sexual battery
    • Robbery
    • Kidnapping
    • Aggravated child abuse
    • Aggravated abuse of an elderly person or disabled adult
    • Aggravated assault with a deadly weapon
    • Murder
    • Manslaughter
    • Aggravated manslaughter of an elderly person or disabled adult
    • Aggravated manslaughter of a child
    • Unlawful throwing, placing, or discharging of a destructive device or bomb
    • Armed burglary
    • Aggravated battery
    • Aggravated stalking

Benefits of an Expungement in Florida

Expungements are an overall positive aspect of the criminal justice system, as long as you’re able to obtain one. But once you do, there are many benefits you can enjoy. For one, the burden of a criminal record will no longer be a problem, as your arrest will no longer be public record. You are also able to legally say that you have not been arrested for a crime, except for in the previously discussed circumstances. Additionally, if you lost gun rights as a result of the arrest, it’s likely that you will receive those rights again.

Sealing your record comes with perks as well, although it isn’t as effect as an expungement. While expunging your record means only the FDLE will have record of your arrest, a sealed record is still accessible by various government agencies.

Restoring Your Rights in Florida

If you have had your record expunged, chances are, you’ll be able to restore some rights you may have previously lost as a result of the charges. However, in Florida, there isn’t really a path for expunging a crime that you were convicted of. As such, it isn’t likely that you will be able to have your record expunged and therefore your rights restored. This means that the best way to restore your rights is through a clemency, which is the pardoning of a crime by the state governor. In Florida, the following clemencies may be granted:

  • Full Pardon: As it sounds, this completely releases the defendant from all punishment and guilt of the crime, restoring all of their previously lost rights.
  • Pardon Without Firearm Authority: This is like the full pardon, with the only exception being they don’t receive their rights to own, possess, or use firearms.
  • Commutation of Sentence: While this doesn’t restore any rights, this will reduce the penalties of their sentence.
  • Remissions of Fines and Forfeitures: This will remove, reduce, or suspend any fines or forfeitures.
  • Specific Authority to Own, Possess, or Use Firearms: This doesn’t grant civil rights, but it renews the defendant’s ability to own, possess, or use firearms.
  • Restoration of Civil Rights in Florida: This restores all rights except for gun rights and requirements associated with sexual offenders.
  • Restoration of Alien Status under Florida Law: Non-citizens can lose their immigration status after being convicted of a felony, but this restores those rights. It doesn’t, however, include gun rights.

As for your voting rights in Florida, the state recently passed a law stating that felons are no longer barred from voting – as long as they have paid all fines associated with the felony first. As Florida has a high balance of fines owed, this is extremely difficult for some, and many have not been able to restore this right. The Florida Rights Restoration Commission just announced that they have raised two million dollars in order to help felons restore their voting rights, which you can either donate to or request assistance from here.

The All Clear

If you want to know what’s on your criminal record, you can check by requesting your Florida criminal history record from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for no charge. If anything comes up, you may want to look into the process of having your record expunged or sealed. Unsure if you qualify? Contact an attorney, as they can advise you on the specifics of your case and can help you with the process. It may be beneficial to have someone who’s familiar with what the court is looking for in order to display your eligibility and necessity of an expungement, as well as why you deserve one. However, having your record expunged won’t necessarily mean the end of all of your troubles. It’s difficult to say for certain whether your charges won’t ever come up on a background check. As such, it’s always good to be prepared for this and know how to explain yourself in the situation that it does come up. Getting an expungement can be life changing for some, so if you think you may be eligible, look into the process and see if you can make your record clean again.

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