The consequences of having a criminal background can be felt long after the case has concluded. Background checks make criminal entanglements publicly accessible, oftentimes making it incredibly difficult to get a job, rent property, and more.

Under certain circumstances, though, expungements or sealing of criminal records can help many of those who find themselves in this situation.

An expungement or sealing is a court-ordered process that can, essentially, erase your criminal record for certain types of crimes. Oftentimes, people get confused between expungement and sealing.  An expungement is permitted only in cases where a charge was no actioned (not filed) or a nolle prosequi (dismissed).  On the other hand, an individual who has received a withhold of adjudication (no conviction), will be allowed to have the criminal record sealed.  The result is, essentially, the same; you may lawfully deny or fail to acknowledge the arrest.    

An expungement/sealing may be used to correct an unfortunate experience with the law, erase a mistaken arrest or arrest records in cases where charges were not filed or dismissed. However, an expungement or sealing is not available to anyone with a criminal conviction on their record. Additionally, you will not be entitled to an expungement or sealing of any record if you have any other prior criminal convictions in your past.  

Even if you haven’t been convicted of anything, it is important to note that the arrest can still show up since the records are available to the public.  A criminal record doesn’t start at conviction—it starts the moment you’re arrested. Remember that an arrest doesn’t have to mean that you were physically placed in handcuffs.  If an officer gives you a “promise to appear” in court for a criminal misdemeanor offense, then you have still been, technically, arrested.  Even if you have the charges dropped, the arrest may still be accessible by nearly anyone who wants to look.

Even after an expungement/sealing, there are certain exceptions where you will be required to disclose the arrest.  For example, immigration court, application for employment with a criminal justice agency, employment for businesses that deal with children, elderly or physically, or mentally handicapped.  It is important that you know what disclosure entails.  

The process to seal/expunge begins with an application to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE).  After you apply, FDLE will perform a background check of its own to make sure all the information you present is correct. This background check process involves reviewing records from several organizations, including the Florida Crime Information Center (FCIC), the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV), and local court databases. After review and determination of eligibility, FDLE will issue a Certificate of Eligibility.

Once the certificate is issued, your attorney can petition the Court for an order sealing or expunging your criminal record.  Don’t expect to get a response right away. There’s usually a backlog for these applications, so expect a wait time of approximately 6 months for the entire process to be complete.

Expungements and sealings are incredibly important, and they can also be extremely complex and nuanced. It is essential that you enlist the guidance of a skilled criminal defense attorney like those at the Law Offices of Sabrina Puglisi to ensure unnecessary and unfair information is kept off your criminal record. Give us a call today to get started.