Sometimes what seems like youthful shenanigans become regrettable mistakes in adulthood, and occasionally even private incidents become incorporated into public records after the judicial system becomes involved. In such situations citizens can request that records be expunged, sealed, or altered. The law governing alterations of public documents varies greatly from state to state, with Florida regulations allowing more options than many jurisdictions for individuals who were subsequently cleared.

What Is Expungement or Sealing?

Sealing records obscures information from the purview of the majority of people. Expungement is a process that permits public records to be destroyed and the incident regarded as if it never happened. Florida law permits both for offenses for which adults were never convicted. Initially, records are sealed, but information can be expunged after 10 years have elapsed following the seal. Information about many serious offenses can never be expunged or sealed, however, including crimes such as arson, homicide, terrorism, sexual crimes against minors, stalking, kidnapping, and sexual battery.

Even in situations when records are sealed, there is no guarantee that information will never be revealed. In fact, Florida law allows broad access to sealed records of individuals seeking employment in law enforcement or in the judicial system. Records are available when someone attempts to purchase a firearm or gain employment with an organization that serves children or the elderly. Nevertheless, the process does provide some protection from regrettable situations. Most potential employers who conduct background checks will be prohibited from accessing sealed information, and it is legal for individuals whose records have been expunged or sealed to answer "no" in most situations when asked if they have been accused of a crime.

Eligibility Issues

Although convictions cannot be sealed or expunged for adults, individuals against whom charges were dismissed can request that their records be sealed and, later, expunged. The state will not seal more than one record, and sealing is prohibited for various serious accusations. Juvenile transgressions are automatically expunged at age 23 or 25, depending upon the criminal history and the nature of the offenses. Also, juveniles can petition the court for sealing if charges were dismissed or if the juvenile successfully completed a diversion program.

What Information Is Required?

Adults seeking sealing or expungement begin by filing an application with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. That form requires details such as fingerprints and a certified form of disposition of the case, available from either the law enforcement agency or court where the issue was adjudicated. Juveniles apply with the same state agency and most must provide certified proof of either case disposition or completion of a diversion program.

What Is the Process for Filing?

After the request is filed with the Department of Law Enforcement, the agency will determine whether a Certificate of Eligibility is in order. If the certificate is granted, the individual must petition the court in the jurisdiction where the incident occurred. Juveniles are required to file requests only in situations with no conviction or if a diversionary program was attended. Otherwise, records are automatically expunged after sufficient time elapses.

Other Options

Though it does nothing to seal or expunge a criminal conviction, a pardon remains a possibility for those who want to regain civil or political rights such as voting, professional licensing, or firearm possession. Florida has different requirements depending on the nature of the offense. Individuals for whom five years have passed since the final release from supervision are eligible for restoration without a hearing. Those who have committed more serious crimes must wait seven years and appear for a hearing. A parole board examiner investigates requests, and the state Board of Clemency will decide whether to grant the pardon.

Contact a Lawyer for Help

This article is a general overview of Florida expungement law. Please consult a local attorney if you have specific questions.

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