Criminal Defense: “If I’m Charged with a Crime, Will it Go on My Record Forever?”

It is a nightmare that nobody wants to experience. Just when you think you’ve landed your dream job, the bad news comes in: you have a criminal record and cannot be accepted into the company. Indeed, the feeling is devastating and can leave you depressed for days on end. Nevertheless, this feeling can be avoided if you take the initiative to seal or expunge your records.

What is Sealing or Expunging?

After you are arrested, a public record is created for your case. The Clerk of Court will assign a case number and open a file. This file will be accessible to the general public at the Clerk of Court office in the courthouse. An online record of the case is also created which typically is accessible through any web browser.

Once the case is closed, if the result was a dismissal of the charges or you received a withhold of adjudication from the court and you have never been convicted of a crime previously, you may be eligible to seal or expunge your record.

Sealing your record means that the file is physically sealed, and cannot be viewed by the general public under any circumstances. Also, the online records are removed from the Clerk of Court’s website. The only one who can access your file is you. Typically, a sealed file is accessed to obtain documents for immigration purposes, but there may be other reasons that documents may need to be obtained for employment purposes, court cases, etc. Expunging your records is very similar to sealing, but adds an additional level of protection above and beyond sealing.

Types of criminal charges and how they are treated by the law

The three main types of criminal charges are violations, misdemeanors, and felonies. Generally, most misdemeanors and minor violations can be sealed or expunged after the case is closed, so long as you meet the qualifications. Once a criminal record has been sealed or expunged, it cannot be accessed by the public and you can legally deny that you had ever been arrested or charged.

Felony charges can also be sealed or expunged, with the exception of certain serious and/or violent crimes. For example, you can seal or expunge a grand theft charge, but you cannot seal or expunge armed robbery or sexual battery charges.

The Sealing and Expungement Process

In Florida, the sealing or expunging process begins by filing an application for a Certificate of Eligibility with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. FDLE will then conduct an investigation into your criminal background to determine if you qualify. If you do, then they will issue the Certificate of Eligibility. You must then file a Petition to Seal or Expunge Records with the Court. A hearing will be scheduled,  but you don’t always have to be present to participate. If all of the documents are in order, the Petitions are usually granted without objection from the prosecution.

What Are the Exceptions?

In Florida, there are several exceptions to being able to legally deny that you were ever arrested. They include applications for law school, admission to The Florida Bar to practice law, applying to work in the criminal justice system, and applying for a license to work with children or the elderly.

Most importantly, the Order to Seal or Expunge Records only binds the State of Florida. It does not bind the United States Federal Government. If there is an FBI record of your arrest (which in all likelihood there is), it will still exist. However, that is not a “public record” which is easily accessible by the general public. It can, however, be obtained by making the appropriate request under the Federal Freedom of Information Act.

Additionally, just because a Judge granted the Petition and signed the Order to Seal or Expunge Records does not mean that individuals and businesses will not be able to obtain this information.  We are living in the “information age.” Every month, private information databases such as Lexis/Nexis, Accurint, ChoicePoint, and others pay court systems for the ability to copy all public records.  That information is swept into a vast database which is maintained outside the court systems and the government of the State of Florida. This Court Order does not bind those corporations to delete this information from their records. However, once your record is sealed or expunged those databases can be notified and the records may be removed.

This blog is just an overview of clearing one’s criminal record. It can sometimes be a complicated process. Hiring an experienced lawyer for assistance can relieve you of that stress. Barry M. Wax can help you determine your eligibility for sealing or expungement, prepare and file the necessary documents and represent you during the court proceedings. If you are interested, call us at (305) 373-4400.

Written by Law Offices of Barry M. Wax

Law Offices of Barry M. Wax

For 34 years, I have provided both State- and Federal-Level representation for those facing charges ranging from wire fraud, mortgage fraud, and healthcare fraud to identity theft, drug trafficking, money laundering, murder, DUI, domestic violence and numerous other criminal charges. In every case, it is my commitment to one-on-one service and support that has separated the Law Offices of Barry M. Wax from other criminal defense firms. When it comes to your future, you need a strong defense and the ability to make the right choices and regain control of your life.