Sealing and Expunging Florida Criminal Records
Why be punished for the rest of your life for one stupid mistake? This question is often asked and there may be something we can do to remove this blemish from your record. Whether it was your mistake or even the police’s mistake, allow us to use our experience to help you out of this unfortunate situation. Getting your record sealed or expunged is a process set out in Florida Statutes, Section 943.0585 and 943.059 for adult criminal records. However, a close read of this statute leads to other statutes and subsections, which is why it is important to have a knowledgeable lawyer to get you through the process as simply and as quickly as possible. Since the process takes anywhere from 3 to 6 months on average from beginning to end, having an attorney handle this for you will help eliminate any speed bumps or problems along the way. You only get to do this ONCE in your lifetime, so it is crucial that it is done correctly.
There are many things required to get your record sealed or expunged. The first important thing is to have a valid “Certificate of Eligibility” or COE. Without this document from the Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement (FDLE), then generally speaking, you can not go any further. While, this could be done without an attorney, it has been my experience that an incorrectly completed application for the COE is often the first stumbling block. This is also the longest part of the process and if this is not done correctly, it may take another 4 to 6 months to restart it, if it is even allowed at all.
It is very important to determine one’s eligibility to even apply for a sealing or expungement. First of all, if you have EVER at any time in your lifetime, either before or after the charge you are trying to seal or expunge, been convicted of ANY criminal offense, including minor criminal ordinance violations, criminal traffic matters, or even “simple” misdemeanors, then under Florida law, you are forbidden from ever getting any charge sealed or expunged. No exceptions. This makes Florida one of the harshest states when it comes to sealing or expunging. If however, this does not apply to you, then you need to determine if you can get a charge sealed or expunged.
The difference between the two is important but not always the most important factor in deciding which one you should do. For example, getting a charge sealed can be quicker and often involves less of a battle with the State Attorney who has the right to object. Expungement also ONLY applies to those charges that have been completely dismissed either by the prosecutor or by the judge. This can include, in some circumstances, Pretrial diversion, aka, Pretrial intervention, aka Deferred Prosecution. If your case was not dismissed and you pled guilty or no contest, or you were found guilty after a trial, regardless of whether or not you received a withhold of adjudication, then you can not get a charge expunged. Again, no exceptions. However, if you have never been convicted of anything (see above), and you did get adjudication withheld, then there are many charges under Florida law that are eligible to be Sealed. Not all charges are eligible to be sealed so it is important to determine eligibility before spending any time or money. As a practical matter, both Sealing and Expunging has the same effect that most people are seeking and that is to restrict the charge from being viewed by the public. The expungement goes the extra step and destroys the records (although FDLE still maintains those records secretly anyway). Since the goal is usually for employment and other purposes, a Sealing is often the better, or possibly, only avenue of relief.
Understand that you can only get one arrest or charge sealed or expunged. Even if you received a withhold of adjudication on two separate charges on different dates, you must choose only one to seal (unless they were part of the same incident). Furthermore, not every charge is eligible to be sealed and not every arrest is eligible to be sealed or expunged. The statute lays out a list of charges, but unfortunately it can be confusing. For example, a simple battery is eligible to be sealed, but if it is a domestic battery, it can not be sealed, even though they are both misdemeanors and both charged under the same statute. More serious charges are not eligible at all. A couple common examples, but by no means exclusive (please call for specific criminal offenses), are charges such as aggravated assault, aggravated battery, arson, drug trafficking, and most all sex-related offenses (except for a small list of misdemeanor offenses). Confused by this? It is likely that you are and that is why it is so important to have an attorney handle this for you.
A criminal record will stay with you for the rest of your life. While Florida makes it difficult to hide past mistakes or even wrongful arrests, if you hire an experienced attorney, it is not impossible to make some of these things go away. Our firm will take your case from the first day all the way up to the date the Judge signs the Order sealing or expunging your case. We will assist you in getting the required documents, fingerprints, and forms. After we receive the COE, we then file the petition with the court to seal or expunge the charge, and then go to court to stand up for you, even if the prosecutor decides to object. Give Craig Epifanio, P.A. a call. We handle these types of cases primarily in the Tampa Bay area of Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, and Manatee counties, but due to the nature of these cases, our office can handle sealing or expungements throughout the State of Florida. Contact Craig Epifanio, P.A. today so that we can help you out of this unfortunate situation.