Law Office of William B. Wynne
2501 Orient Rd., Suite D
Tampa, FL 33619
Law Office of William B. Wynne
2501 Orient Rd., Suite D
Tampa, FL 33619
Many find it challenging to differentiate between the expungement and sealing processes in Florida, and understandably so. At first glance, these procedures seem more alike than different. Both restrict or prevent public access to a criminal history record and grant individuals the legal right to deny or not acknowledge the record’s existence. However, the devil is in the details. While they largely mirror each other in purpose and function, the distinctions between expungement and sealing in Florida emerge in areas such as their application and eligibility requirements, mandatory disclosure requirements, and the level of privacy and security they provide.
To delve deeper, let’s start by defining these terms. Section 943.045(16), Florida Statutes (2022), defines expungement as “the court-ordered physical destruction or obliteration of a record or portion of a record by any criminal justice agency having custody thereof.” The term ‘physically destroyed’ means the complete removal of records from the databases that would typically contain such information.1 The expungement process is enumerated in section 943.0585, Florida Statutes.
On the other hand, section 943.059, Florida Statutes, outlines the court-ordered sealing of criminal history records, a process where the record is not eliminated but is hidden from public view. Section 943.045(19) defines sealing as “the preservation of a record under such circumstances that it is secure and inaccessible to any person not having a legal right of access to the record or the information contained and preserved therein.”2
The qualifications for sealing and expunging a criminal record in Florida are not identical; your eligibility for each largely hinges on the resolution of the criminal case you’re looking to have either sealed or expunged.
While the initial application processes for sealing and expunging criminal records in Florida are largely identical, there’s a crucial additional step required for expungement. For expungement, the application must first be submitted to the State Attorney’s Office. This preliminary step is critical, as it ensures that the necessary written certified statement on page two of the application is properly completed by the State Attorney’s Office before being sent to the FDLE for review.
Once the State Attorney’s Office has dutifully completed this portion, it’s then up to the applicant to promptly retrieve the application. Only after retrieval can the application be submitted to the FDLE for their review and final approval.
This extra procedural requirement can, understandably, extend the duration of the expungement process. The additional time is contingent upon the efficiency of the State Attorney’s Office in completing their portion and the applicant’s diligence in retrieving the application. Depending on these factors, this phase could lengthen the overall process by a few weeks or, in rare instances, a few months.
Finally, while both processes allow you to lawfully deny or fail to acknowledge the existence of the expunged or sealed record in most circumstances, it’s crucial to be aware that exceptions exist for both processes. However, sealed records have a few additional disclosure requirements that are not applicable to expunged records. Specifically, if you have a sealed record, you must disclose it when purchasing a firearm or applying for a concealed carry permit. Conversely, if your record has been expunged, you are not obliged to reveal it under these same circumstances.
Both sealed and expunged records must be disclosed in the following circumstances:
Sealed records (but not expunged records) must be disclosed in two additional circumstances:
It’s essential to note that while sealed records carry additional disclosure requirements, they do not automatically preclude individuals from purchasing firearms or obtaining a concealed carry permit in Florida.
One of the most pivotal differences between expungement and sealing in Florida lies in the ultimate fate of the criminal records in question. In comparing the expungement of criminal records with the process of sealing them, it’s crucial to note that each method has its own distinct impact on the accessibility of those records.
Sealing a criminal record in Florida doesn’t result in its destruction. Instead, the record becomes highly restricted from general public access. According to section 943.059, Florida Statutes, sealed records remain in existence but become confidential. In other words, while the records are still technically “there,” they are far less accessible than they would be otherwise.
When a criminal record is expunged in Florida, it is effectively destroyed and removed from public access. All agencies involved are obligated to physically destroy or obliterate the records. The only exception is a confidential copy retained by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). Unlike sealed records, which remain but are less accessible, expunged records are eradicated entirely.
While both sealing and expungement serve to limit public access to your criminal history, it’s important to note that specific rules for access differ considerably between the two. Different entities hold legal authority to view these restricted records, depending on whether the records have been sealed or expunged.
While the primary purpose of sealing a record is to restrict its general accessibility, it’s crucial to understand that some entities still have the legal authority to view these sealed records. These exceptions can be found in Section 943.059(6), Florida Statutes, and fall into three main categories: agencies screening for employment, agencies conducting licensing reviews, and exceptions for other general reasons.
While the primary goal of expunging a record is to eliminate it completely, there are specific instances where certain agencies or entities are alerted to the existence of an expunged record. These exceptions are outlined in section 943.0585(6) of the Florida Statutes.3 It’s important to note that being alerted does not grant these agencies full access to the record; instead, additional permission, usually in the form of a court order, is needed to view the content of an expunged record.
In summation, specific entities in Florida retain the authority to access sealed records, primarily for purposes such as employment screening, licensing, and certain legal proceedings. In contrast, with expunged records, certain agencies can only be alerted to their existence but accessing the content directly typically requires a court order. Expungement offers a higher degree of protection since it largely ‘erases’ the record from public view, whereas sealing simply restricts access. Thus, for individuals seeking the maximum protection of their privacy and limited exposure of their past, expungement would be the more robust option.
Understanding the intricate distinctions between expungement and sealing under Florida law is crucial for individuals seeking to navigate the complexities of the state’s criminal justice system. While both processes aim to offer a form of relief from the stigmatizing effects of a criminal record, they are not the same. From eligibility requirements and application procedures to the level of privacy and security that is conferred upon completion, expungement and sealing, each have their own set of rules and consequences.
If you’re considering either of these legal avenues, it’s essential to consult with an experienced Florida sealing and expungement attorney, to evaluate your individual circumstances and guide you through the multifaceted legal terrain. Call us today at 813-532-5057 for a free consultation.