What is Criminal Record Sealing & Criminal Record Expungement?
Most people don't realize that once you are arrested, the police and court record becomes a PUBLIC RECORD which anyone can see online while performing a background check or go to the courthouse if they want specific information regarding the arrest record. This arrest record exists even if your case was dismissed or you were found not guilty.
Many people think that arrest records are automatically sealed or removed (expunged) after a period of time. This is NOT TRUE. The arrest record remains publically available PERMANENTLY unless that arrest record is ordered sealed or expunged by a judge.
As you may already know, criminal background checks are common and easy to do. Background checks are common when applying for a job, school, housing, loans, special licenses, and getting more and more common even in personal relationships. Once the court grants your criminal record sealing or criminal record expungement you don't have to worry about that case following you around forever.
Florida law allows a person who has never been convicted (adjudicated guilty) of a crime to seal or expunge their arrest record. There are some criteria that you must meet however. These criteria are:
You can't have had any prior convictions (adjudications of guilt) for any criminal offense (anywhere).
You can't have had a criminal record sealed or expunged before (anywhere).
You can't be currently under court supervision (probation, house arrest, etc.).
If you received a withhold of adjudication, the case seeking to be sealed or expunged can't be listed as a dangerous crime.
Once the case is sealed or expunged, you may legally deny that the arrest record and court case ever happened. Of equal benefit, it will remove it from public view and stop the arrest record from coming up in background checks (more on this further below). There are some exceptions to this, crimes that CANNOT be sealed or expunged.
Situations where you have to tell that you have had a criminal record sealed or a criminal record expunged - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
This is why most people choose to seal or expunge a record. The sealing or expunging of your record REMOVES THOSE CRIMINAL RECORDS FROM PUBLIC VIEW AND ACCESS. The sealed or expunged arrest record is available only to the person who is the subject of that arrest record, his attorney, respective law enforcement agencies for their respective criminal justice purposes, and to those listed below in the "ugly" section. It is also a misdemeanor for anyone that has access to your arrest record to divulge that your arrest record has been sealed or expunged. Furthermore, Florida law allows a person who has sealed or expunged their arrest record to LAWFULLY DENY or FAIL TO ACKNOWLEDGE the arrests covered by the sealed or expunged record.
There are certain situations where you do have a legal obligation to divulge that you have had an arrest record sealed or expunged. A person has a legal duty to divulge that they have had a record sealed or expunged if the person:
Is a candidate for employment with a criminal justice agency;
Is a defendant in a criminal prosecution;
Concurrently or subsequently petitions for relief under section 943.0585 or section 943.059;
Is a candidate for admission to The Florida Bar;
Is seeking to be employed or licensed by or to contract with the Department of Children and Family Services or the Department of Juvenile Justice or to be employed or used by such contractor or licensee in a sensitive position having direct contact with children, the developmentally disabled, the aged, or the elderly as provided in Florida Statutes: s. 110.1127(3), s. 393.063(15), s. 394.4572(1), s. 397.451, s. 402.302(3), s. 402.313(3), s. 409.175(2)(i), s. 415.102(4), s. 415.103, s. 916.106(10) and (13) s. 985.407, or chapter 400; or
Is seeking to be employed or licensed by the Department of Education, any district school board, any university laboratory school, any charter school, any private or parochial school or any local governmental entity that licenses child care facilities.
Is attempting to purchase a firearm from a licensed importer, licensed manufacturer, or licensed dealer and is subject to a criminal history background check under state or federal law; or
Is seeking authorization from a Florida seaport identified in s. 311.09 for employment within or access to one or more of such seaports pursuant to s. 311.12 or s. 311.125.
When the record is expunged the agency will only receive the subject's demographic information and a caveat statement stating that criminal history information has been expunged, but will be unable to receive the details.
The ugly is not so ugly. If you apply for licensing or employment by any of the entities mentioned above, your record is subject to disclosure and is not protected. It is however illegal for anyone who your record is disclosed to to disclose information about your arrest record to anyone except you or to anyone having direct employment or licensing decisions.