Sealing and Expungment
A criminal record acts as a modern day “scarlet letter,” exposing the wearer to public humiliation. Often, a criminal record will bring hardship when applying for jobs, schooling and military service, among other things. A guilty conviction is not even required for someone to end up with a permanent criminal record. In Florida, if you are arrested, a criminal record will be created for you that is publicly accessible and can be found on any basic background check. Even if the prosecution decides not to file charges against you at all, or if you go to trial and are found not guilty, the criminal arrest record will remain.
This whole process may seem unjust, and it is. However, the Florida legislature has created some processes by which a person arrested for or charged with a crime can cleanse their criminal record. These processes are known as sealing and expungement. If you qualify to have your criminal arrest record sealed or expunged, you should strongly consider retaining a lawyer to help you follow the proper procedure. Only certain people charged with certain offenses qualify to have their records removed, so it is critical that you consult an experienced St. Petersburg criminal lawyer to help you determine if you qualify.Sealing Your Records
The first process that can be undertaken to clean up your criminal arrest record is the sealing process. Pursuant to Florida Statute section 943.059, people with certain offenses on their criminal record can apply to have their record sealed. Sealing means that a criminal record is removed from public view and access. Even background checks will not be able to uncover sealed records. A sealed record, however, is not destroyed by the clerk of court. Instead, it is kept under lock and key and can be reopened under certain circumstances. For example, a prospective lawyer applying to the Florida Bar will be required to voluntarily unseal his or her records for the organization to review.
In order to qualify to have your records sealed, you do not necessarily need to win at trial, get your case dismissed or even plead not guilty. If you are charged with a qualifying misdemeanor or felony, even if you are found guilty, you may qualify to have your record of the offense sealed as long as the judge withholds adjudication of guilt. If the court withholds adjudication, once your sentence is complete, you can apply to have your criminal records sealed from public access. If you think you might qualify to have your criminal history sealed, you should contact an experienced St. Petersburg criminal lawyer right away.Expunging Your Records
Criminal record expungement is a more permanent process than sealing. If you successfully have your criminal history expunged, the clerk of the court will destroy the records, preventing them from being accessed by anyone, even the person originally charged with a crime. Florida Statute 943.0585 permits the expungement of certain records depending on the outcome of the case.
Unlike sealing, you can only immediately apply for expungement of your criminal records if your case was dismissed or if you were found not guilty by a jury. If you are arrested, but your case is dismissed thanks to your participation in a diversion program or due to your lawyer’s legal arguments and negotiations, you can immediately apply for expungement. If you go to trial and the jury or judge finds that you are not guilty, you can also immediately apply. Even if you plead guilty to a charge, if the court withholds adjudication and you successfully seal your records, you can later apply for expungement after 10 years as long as you are not convicted of a crime during that 10 year period.Contact Our Lawyers Today
The sealing and expunging process can be confusing for non-lawyers. The process, due to the volume of applications, can also take up to a year to complete. If you think you might qualify for a sealing or expungement of your criminal history, call the skilled St. Petersburg criminal lawyers at Hanlon Law today at 727.897.5413 so that we can help guide you through the process.