As we all know, having a criminal records or an arrest record — even if the charges were dropped or the case dismissed — can have a devastating effect on your future and severely impact your ability to rent a home or an apartment, get a job, purchase a firearm and apply for certain licenses. The poor decisions we sometimes make as young adults can become a burden that we ultimately carry around for our entire lives. Once the judicial system gets involved, even private incidents become a part of public record. Even good people can have bad days. But should that bad day haunt you for the rest of your life?
Not necessarily! Expungement or sealing may be an option. What is expungement or sealing? When a criminal record is expunged or sealed, it effectively obscures that information from the view of the majority of people. It is a sometimes complicated process that permits public records to be sealed or destroyed, as if the incident never even happened. Thankfully, Florida is probably one of the most liberal states when it comes to the expungement or sealing of criminal records and Florida law permits both expungement and sealing for offenses in which individuals were never convicted. However, information about many types of crimes cannot be expunged or sealed. These crimes include homicide, sexual battery, stalking, kidnapping, sex crimes against minors, terrorism and arson.
It is important to understand that, even in situations where the records have been expunged or sealed, there is no guarantee that your records will NEVER be revealed. If you are looking for employment in law enforcement or in the judicial system, Florida law allows broad access to your criminal past. If you want to purchase a gun or work with an organization that caters to the elderly or children, your criminal past will be available to those performing a background check. But if you are not going into one of those fields of employment, expungement or sealing can allow you to legally answer “no” on a job application when asked if you have ever been accused of a crime.
Here is the catch: The state will only seal one record in your lifetime and sealing is prohibited for a variety of serious accusations. Also, if you were convicted as an adult, you are not eligible for expungement or sealing, however if your charges were dismissed, you ARE eligible to have your record sealed and later expunged. Depending on the nature of the offense and the criminal history, Juvenile transgressions are automatically expunged at age 23 or 25.
If your criminal past is haunting you and you wish to find out whether or not your criminal records are eligible for expungement or sealing, it is important for you to contact an attorney who can explain the expungement and sealing process from start to finish and guide you through that process.