Expungement and Records Sealing in Sarasota, FL: Everything You Need to Know
Have you ever been arrested for a crime?
This is a question you will often find on job applications and background checks, and if the answer is yes, you are legally obligated to respond that you have. And if you try to lie, employers and other organizations can petition to access your criminal record and can see what you’ve been arrested for and why.
Even if you didn’t actually commit the crime, as in you were acquitted in court, if you were arrested and/or charged, this incident will still show up on your record. This can obviously impact your long-term future in a negative way.
Fortunately, in the state of Florida, there are ways for you to have these incidents removed from your record, or, at the very least, hidden from everyone except law enforcement.
This process is called expungement. It’s a bit complicated, which is why it requires a lawyer.
If you’re looking for an expungement lawyer in Sarasota, FL, look no further than Smith and Eulo.
In the meantime, here’s everything you need to know about expungement and records sealing in the state of Florida:
What is Expungement?
Expungement is the process of having your criminal record completely wiped clean. This means that any applicable (we’ll cover what this means in a moment) arrests will be removed from court records and therefore made to essentially not exist.
When this happens, you will be able to say, from the moment of the expungement onwards, that you have never been arrested.
What is Records Sealing?
The terms expungement and record sealing are often used interchangeably. While related, they are not quite the same. Records sealing means that your criminal record will be closed to anyone except the courts and law enforcement.
With records sealing, your criminal record is not wiped clean, but most people, such as potential employers, will not be able to see them.
However, if you are arrested for another crime, the arresting officers will be able to see your prior arrests and may use this information as part of any subsequent trial.
Which is Better: Expungement or Records Sealing?
It’s really not a question of better since they ultimately apply to different cases.
You can only apply for expungement if no formal charging documents were issued against you, such as an indictment or information.
However, if you were arrested, charged, and acquitted (found not guilty), then you cannot apply for expungement and instead have to pursue a records sealing.
Therefore, while expungement might “sound” better because it wipes your record clean, it’s effectively the same as records sealing but just applies to different situations.
Disqualifications for Expungement and Record Sealing
Not everyone can apply for an expungement of records sealing in the state of Florida. In fact, there are more things that can disqualify you than qualify you.
For one, you cannot apply for an expungement or records sealing if you have been convicted of a crime in the state of Florida.
There are only a few rare exceptions to this, such as if the crime was in self-defense or because you were a victim of human trafficking.
Even if you have been arrested for another crime and later not charged, if you have a guilty conviction on your record, all parts of your record will remain there forever.
In most cases, this applies to felonies, though not always.
For example, reckless driving and driving under the influence, while technically misdemeanors (depending on the specifics of the case), are often treated as criminal charges and can prevent you from getting your record expunged.
In addition, if you have been arrested and formally charged with what the state of Florida calls a “forcible felony,” then you are disqualified from expungement even if you were acquitted by the courts.
These felonies include crimes of:
- Sexual misconduct
- Illegal use of explosives
- Manslaughter or homicide
- Assault or battery of one family or household member by another family or household member
- Aggravated assault
- Felony battery, domestic battery by strangulation, or aggravated battery;
- Stalking or aggravated stalking
- Luring or enticing a child
- Human trafficking
- Kidnapping or false imprisonment
- Procuring a person less than 18 years of age for prostitution
- Lewd or lascivious offenses committed upon or in the presence of persons less than 16 years of age
- Burglary of a dwelling
- Voyeurism or video voyeurism
- Robbery or robbery by sudden snatching
- Home-invasion robbery
- A violation of the Florida Communications Fraud Act
- Abuse of an elderly person or disabled adult, or aggravated abuse of an elderly person or disabled adult
- Lewd or lascivious offenses committed upon or in the presence of an elderly person or disabled person
- Child abuse or aggravated child abuse
- Sexual performance by a child
- Selling or buying of minors
- Aircraft piracy
- Manufacturing a controlled substance
- Drug trafficking
- Any violation specified as a predicate offense for registration as a sexual predator
Another reason why you would be disqualified for expungement of records sealing is if you have already gone through with this process before.
In other words, you only get one chance to do this in your lifetime.
So, if you have your records expunged or sealed and then get arrested for something else, that second arrest will remain on your record forever.
Qualifications for Expungement and Record Sealing
To be able to apply for expungement or to have your records sealed, at least one year must have passed since your last arrest or trial.
In addition, if the court ordered you to do anything, such as serve a term of probation, you must wait until all of those requirements have been met. Then you can apply.
Again, if there were no charging documents and no trial, then you qualify to have your records expunged.
However, if there was a trial in which you were found not guilty, then you don’t qualify for expungement and instead have to apply to have your records sealed.
Automatic Records Sealing
In the state of Florida, your records will automatically be sealed if the charges against you are dropped or dismissed, if there were no charging documents, or if you were acquitted of your charges in a court of law.
However, there is a key distinction here: records are sealed, not expunged. So, if you were arrested but never charged, your records will be automatically sealed but they will not be expunged.
If you qualify for automatic expungement or records sealing, you don’t need to do a thing. The clerk of the court will initiate this process after your case is closed.
If you want to have them removed from your record, you will need to pursue this process on your own, waiting one year after the incident to apply.
Additional Defenses in Favor of Expungement and Record Sealing
While there are strict rules about you can apply for expungement or records sealing, there are a few exceptions, especially when it comes to forcible felonies that may have normally excluded you from being able to expunge or seal your records.
These exceptions include:
- Lawful self-defense expungement — If you were arrested for a forcible felony but the prosecutor certifies that you acted in self-defense and that your actions represented a justifiable use of force in line with Florida statutes, then you can still apply to have your records sealed or expunged,
- Human trafficking expungement — If you were a victim of human trafficking and were arrested for crimes while a part of this scheme, then you can still apply to have your records expunged or sealed. A clear example of this is if you were forced to be a part of a prostitition ring and were arrested for prostitution during this time.
Juvenile Expungement and Records Sealing
Special circumstances also apply to juveniles who were arrested or charged with crimes. In an effort to give juvenile offenders a second chance on life, the state of Florida will automatically expunge a juvenile’s record when they turn 21.
Alternatively, if the juvenile was sent to juvenile correctional facility, these records will be expunged at 26. However, for this to apply, the person in question must not have been charged with or convicted of a forcible felony during that time.
It is possible for juveniles to have their records expunged more quickly, between the ages of 18 and 21, provided that they have not been charged with or convicted of a forcible felony within the past five (5) years.
Lastly, if the juvenile in question has completed a juvenile diversion program in the state of Florida, then they are also eligible for expungement.
Process for Having Records Expunged or Appealed
If you qualify for an expungement or to have your records sealed, there are several steps to this process. The first is to apply with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for a “Certificate of Eligibility.” This is the part of the process where the authorities determine if expungement and/or records sealing are even possible.
Once approved, you will then have to go to the district in which the charges were first processed and fill out a petition, order, and affidavit with the local clerk. These documents then get submitted to the courts, and then you wait.
Usually within a month, the courts will respond and either approve/deny the request or call a formal hearing, in which case you will need to present yourself in front of a judge to defend your request and answer questions.
This is a long, tedious process. And, unfortunately, if you make a mistake along the way, you usually must go back and start from the beginning.
Call the Best Legal Counsel for Your Expungement Proceedings
Getting your records expunged or sealed can be of great benefit to your life. It will remove any prior arrests or charges and open up new opportunities for you. However, this is a complex legal process. Even determining if you are eligible requires considerable knowledge of the law, not to mention the actual application and defense.
If you feel you qualify for expungement or records sealing in Sarasota, FL, use the attorneys at Smith and Eulo. We’ve helped hundreds of clients clear their name and we will assist you in every step of the process so that you can move through it as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Get in touch today and let’s get to work on your case.
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