Expungement in Florida

Sealing & Expungement in Florida | Your Guide to a Clean Slate

Florida Expungement Attorney $599 + Costs

If you or a loved one are contemplating the process of sealing or expungement in Florida, contact the Law Office of William B. Wynne today to discuss your options with an experienced Florida expungement lawyer. Located in Tampa but serving the entire state, the Law Office of William B. Wynne has successfully guided hundreds clients through the nuanced and complex process of expungement and sealing across numerous Florida counties. If you have a criminal record and meet the eligibility requirements, we can help you expunge or seal your record.

Seal Your Criminal Record Florida

Despite popular opinion, a criminal arrest record does not simply disappear over time. It does not matter if the charges were dropped or if you were acquitted at trial. Every time a person is arrested and fingerprinted, a permanent criminal record is created. This record—including the arrest details, criminal charges, and ensuing court activity—is retained by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and remains publicly available permanently, unless a court orders the record to be expunged or sealed. A cursory FDLE background check will uncover any existing criminal records. Sadly, even without a conviction, the mere association with criminal charges can have devastating consequences. This is not just an inconvenience; it is a stain on your record that can impact everything from employment opportunities to housing applications.

The Scourge of Public Criminal Records

In today’s modern age of high-speed information, this issue of publicly accessible criminal records is compounded exponentially. Background checks, once confined to the purview of law enforcement or hiring organizations, have expanded to the general public. Databases maintained by the FDLE and other entities allow anyone with digital access to view criminal history information and scour public court records, which often include detailed arrest reports. Tragically, this means your criminal history is readily accessible, not just to potential employers or landlords, but virtually anyone—neighbors, friends, or potential romantic interests.

Florida’s FDLE Background Check

Complicating matters further is the widespread misunderstanding of these records. Evan an arrest that led to charges being dropped can continue to haunt you because it remains visible on background checks. Often, those reviewing these reports lack the expertise to interpret them accurately. Uninformed employers or landlords might hold this against you, not understanding—or caring—that the charges were dropped or that you were found innocent. These reasons underscore the value and importance of criminal record expungement in Florida.

Expungement and Sealing of Criminal Records

Speak to a Florida Expungement Lawyer

The legal process of expunging or sealing records in Florida is fraught with legal complexities and nuances. While it is technically possible to undertake the sealing or expungement process without an attorney, legal complexities and potential pitfalls make legal representation highly advisable. Mistakes in the application process or failure to adequately substantiate your petition can lead to delays or outright denial. To that end, it is not uncommon for individuals to resort to professional legal help from a Florida expungement lawyer after encountering obstacles in their self-directed attempts to expunge or seal their records. Further, many individuals find that retaining a Florida expungement attorney not only brings peace of mind but also spares them unnecessary financial and emotional costs. At the Law Office of William B. Wynne, we are committed to ensuring the process is handled with meticulous care, and as quickly as possible.

Expunge or Seal Your Record: Definitions

The legal process for expungement of criminal records in Florida is enumerated in section 943.0585, Florida Statutes (2023). Under Florida law, “expunction of a criminal history record” is defined as “the court-ordered physical destruction or obliteration of a record or portion of a record by any criminal justice agency having custody thereof.” § 943.045(16), Fla. Stat. (2023). In practical terms, an expunged record is destroyed and no longer exists, as if the arrest or charge never happened.

The legal process for sealing criminal records is enumerated in section 943.059, Florida Statutes. Sealing records involves a specialized form of safeguarding the information from the general public. The “sealing of a criminal history record” is defined 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.” § 943.045(19), Fla. Stat. (2023). When a record is sealed, it is still there, but access to it is highly restricted.

The Benefits of Expungement in Florida

When the court orders your record sealed or expunged, it’s more than a simple administrative change—it’s an opportunity for renewal. Expungement and sealing can liberate you from the burden of a prior criminal record, allowing you to progress without the weight of past transgressions. As a Florida expungement lawyer, William B. Wynne takes pride in helping clients free themselves from these burdens.

Having your record sealed or expunged means that your criminal record will either be destroyed or removed from public access, making it confidential to the public, future employers, and common background searches, with certain limitations. The law also gives you the right to lawfully deny or fail to acknowledge the existence of the sealed or expunged record, essentially making it as if it never happened. Both processes protect you from standard background checks, but the level of confidentiality and privacy provided varies in nuanced ways between them.

Florida Expungement Attorney

Key Differences Between Expungement and Sealing

Both expungement and sealing in Florida serve the purpose of making your criminal record inaccessible to the public. Additionally, both processes give you the lawful authority to deny or fail to acknowledge the existence of the expunged or sealed record. However, despite their many similarities, there are some subtle but significant differences.

Sealing involves a court order making your record private and inaccessible to the general public, including employers and educational institutions. Expungement, on the other hand, results in the physical destruction of your record, with one copy retained by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for law enforcement use only.

Eligibility requirements differ slightly for each. In Florida, expungement is generally reserved for cases where the charges were completely dismissed, while sealing is typically an option when the court has withheld adjudication, meaning you were not formally convicted even though the charges were not dismissed.

Are You Eligible for Expungement in Florida?

A predominant query, raised by approximately 95% of clients we encounter, centers around their eligibility for expungement or sealing in Florida. This is, without a doubt, the first crucial consideration. Unfortunately, about 80% of individuals who contact our office discover they are ineligible.

Determining eligibility isn’t always straightforward; it frequently necessitates a nuanced approach. Thorough research, a deep understanding of the law, and proficiency in interpreting court records are often indispensable in ascertaining whether you qualify for expungement or sealing.

Your eligibility for either expungement or sealing is contingent upon the way your prior criminal case was resolved. As we previously discussed, expungement is generally suitable for individuals whose charges were either dropped or dismissed. On the other hand, sealing is applicable for those who may not have had their charges dismissed but did have adjudication withheld by the court. This is typically the case when an individual, unable to secure a dismissal of their charges, enters a plea of either “guilty” or “no contest” and the court withholds adjudication.

Requirements and Disqualifying Factors

  • No prior Florida convictions: If you’ve ever been adjudicated guilty or convicted of any criminal offense, regardless of where or how long ago, you will not be eligible for sealing or expungement in Florida. However, as of October 1, 2019, a legal amendment allows for the consideration of out-of-state convictions. Under current Florida law, only convictions within Florida will serve as disqualifying factors.
  • No prior Florida sealing or expungement: Florida law permits just one opportunity to expunge or seal your record. If you have previously utilized this one-time benefit within the state of Florida, you are automatically disqualified. Notably, actions taken in other states won’t affect your status here. For instance, a record expunged in another state won’t prevent you from seeking relief in Florida.
  • No Pending Criminal Charges or Court Supervision: You are ineligible if you have any pending open criminal cases or are presently under any form of court-mandated supervision, be it probation, community control, or similar legal restrictions.
  • Certain offenses cannot be Sealed: Certain criminal offenses cannot be sealed even if adjudication was withheld. These offenses are listed and discussed further in the next section below.
  • Only Florida criminal records can be Sealed or Expunged: Our services are limited to the expungement or sealing of criminal arrest records that originated within the state of Florida. Each state carries its own specific set of laws concerning these legal processes. Therefore, for arrest records associated with incidents occurring outside of Florida, it’s crucial to consult an attorney licensed in the relevant jurisdiction.
  • For Expungement Only – Charges Dismissed/Dropped: To be eligible for expungement, your prior criminal case must have been dropped, dismissed, not pursued by the prosecutor, or resulted in an acquittal following a trial.
  • For Sealing Only – Adjudication Withheld: For those who may not have had their charges dismissed, sealing is an option, but only if adjudication was withheld.

Criminal Offenses That Cannot Be Sealed:

Florida Law explicitly enumerates a variety of offenses that are categorically ineligible for record sealing, regardless of whether adjudication has been withheld.

The following offenses cannot be sealed, regardless of whether adjudication was withheld:

  • Certain Sexual Misconduct Offenses
  • Unlawful Use of Explosives
  • Acts of Terrorism
  • Murder, Manslaughter, or Homicide
  • Domestic Violence Crimes
  • Aggravated Assault, Aggravated Battery, or Felony Battery
  • Domestic Battery by Strangulation
  • Stalking or Aggravated Stalking
  • Luring or Enticing a Child
  • Human Trafficking
  • Kidnapping or False Imprisonment
  • Sexual Battery and Related Offenses
  • Prostitution Involving Minors
  • Lewd Conduct Involving Persons Under 16
  • Arson Offenses
  • Burglary of a Dwelling
  • Voyeuristic Acts
  • Robbery, Robbery Sudden Snatching, or Home-Invasion Robbery
  • Carjacking Offenses
  • Fraudulent Acts Under the Florida Communications Fraud Act
  • Elderly or Disabled Abuse
  • Lewd Conduct Involving Elderly or Disabled Persons
  • Child Abuse or Aggravated Child Abuse
  • Sexual Performance Involving Minors
  • Corruption by Public Officers and Employees
  • Obscene or Pornographic Offenses
  • Child Trafficking or Selling
  • Aircraft Piracy
  • Controlled Substance Manufacturing and Drug Trafficking
  • Predicate Offenses for Sexual Predator or Offender Registration

For the most comprehensive and updated list of these offenses, it is advisable to consult section 943.0584(2)(a)-(hh), Florida Statutes. Even if adjudication is withheld for any of the above-listed offenses, the law prohibits the sealing of such criminal records. But remember, if your charges were dropped, dismissed, not pursued by the prosecutor, or if you were acquitted post-trial, your record may still qualify for expungement—even for the offenses cited above—provided you otherwise qualify.

DUI Charges Cannot Be Sealed

One special mention is DUI charges, which, though not explicitly mentioned in the list of non-sealable offenses, cannot be sealed. This is not because the law expressly forbids sealing DUI records, but rather because Florida Statutes do not allow for the withholding of adjudication for DUI offenses. However, if the DUI charges were dropped or dismissed, expungement may still be an option.

Expunge Record Florida: The Application Process

The process for sealing or expunging a criminal record in Florida begins with the submission of an application to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). This application must include a set of fingerprints, a certified copy of the final disposition for each individual case you’re seeking to expunge or seal, a non-refundable application fee of $75.00, and a letter of representation on letterhead, if represented by a Florida expungement lawyer. It is important to note that the process of expungement entails an extra procedural step, which involves first submitting the application to the State Attorney’s Office before it can be sent to the FDLE for processing.

After reviewing the application, the FDLE either issues a Certificate of Eligibility or denies the request. Once the Certificate of Eligibility is secured, the applicant must file a Petition for Expungement or Sealing in the circuit court or county court of the jurisdiction where the original charge was filed. This petition must be accompanied by a sworn notarized affidavit attesting to the applicant’s eligibility, along with any other supporting evidence. If there are no legal grounds for denying the petition, many jurisdictions grant these without a hearing. However, some courts do require hearings, which need to be scheduled and attended.

Expungement in Florida Lawyer

When You Must Disclose an Expunged or Sealed Record

As previously discussed, one of the major benefits of sealing or expunging your criminal record is the legal right to deny or fail to acknowledge the existence of the sealed or expunged record. Unfortunately, there are exceptions to these non-disclosure protections. Under Florida law there are specific circumstances that require disclosure of criminal history records, even if they were previously expunged or sealed. That is, you may not lawfully deny or fail to acknowledge your expunged or sealed criminal record under these circumstances.

Exceptions to Non-Disclosure Protections

It’s essential to understand these exceptions prior to initiating the sealing or expungement process. These exceptions are primarily relevant for individuals seeking employment in fields that involve vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly, or those who are physically or mentally challenged, particularly in environments like nursing homes and daycare centers. Additionally, they apply to individuals pursuing careers in criminal justice and law enforcement, certain professional licenses, and those aiming to obtain a Florida license to practice law. These exceptions are further detailed below.

When You MUST Disclose an Expunged or Sealed Record:

  1. Employment in Criminal Justice: Disclosure is required if you are seeking a position within a criminal justice organization.
  2. Legal Proceedings: Disclosure is obligatory if you find yourself as a defendant in a criminal matter.
  3. Further Relief: If you’re applying for additional sealing or expungement under certain sections of the law.
  4. Florida Bar Application: Disclosure is required when you are applying for membership to The Florida Bar.
  5. Employment for Health and Welfare Agencies: If you aim to work or contract with specific state agencies focused on children, the elderly, or disabled individuals, such as the Department of Children and Families, or the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, among others.
  6. Government Employment in Education:  Applying for work or contracts within the Department of Education, district educational units, special educational units, or specific types of schools like charter schools and private schools. If you’re a contractor or an employee under any educational institution as mentioned above. If you undergo screening under specific educational statutes.
  7. Insurance Licensure: Disclosure is mandatory if you’re pursuing a license from the Division of Insurance Agent and Agency Services in the Department of Financial Services.
  8. Guardianship: When seeking to become a legal guardian under specific sections of the law.
  9. Firearm Purchase and Concealed Weapons Permits (Sealing Only): If you’re attempting to purchase a firearm or apply for a concealed weapons permit, you are legally required to disclose a sealed record. This does not apply to expunged records.

The full list of exceptions to the rule of non-disclosure can be found in section 943.0585(6)(b), Florida Statutes, for expungement and section 943.059(6)(b), Florida Statutes, for sealing.

Florida Lawyer for Expungement and Sealing: Frequent Questions

Below are some frequently asked questions and answers designed to provide clarity and guidance regarding the expungement and sealing processes in Florida.

What is the difference between expungement and sealing?

Expungement involves the court-ordered physical destruction of a criminal record, except for one copy retained by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) for law enforcement purposes only. Sealing a record means it remains intact but is protected from public view, accessible only to certain government or related entities.

Who is eligible for expungement or sealing?

To be eligible for expungement, your charges must have been dropped, dismissed, not prosecuted, or you must have been acquitted at trial. In contrast, the criteria for sealing are less stringent. It does not require that charges be dropped, dismissed, or not prosecuted; instead, it is sufficient if adjudication was withheld—meaning no formal conviction was entered—even if you entered a plea. This makes sealing a viable option for those who may not qualify for expungement but have avoided a conviction.

What are the costs involved in expunging or sealing a record?

The Law Office of William B. Wynne charges $599.00 plus additional costs for expunging or sealing a record. These additional costs include a $75.00 application fee payable to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), bringing the total fee to $674.00. Additional court or filing fees may also apply, depending on the specifics of the case.

Can any criminal offense be sealed or expunged?

No, not all criminal offenses in Florida are eligible for sealing or expungement. The ability to seal a record is restricted for certain offenses, even if adjudication was withheld. These include, but are not limited to, sexual misconduct, aggravated assault, human trafficking, and other serious crimes as specified in section 943.0584(2)(a)-(hh), Florida Statutes. However, if the criminal charges were dismissed, not filed, dropped, or the defendant was acquitted, the record may be eligible for expungement regardless of the nature of the original charges.

What are the benefits of having my record sealed or expunged?

Having your criminal record sealed or expunged can transform your life in several profound ways. When a record is expunged, it is physically destroyed, removing it from public databases and essentially erasing it from public view. The only exception is a confidential copy retained by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) for specific legal and security purposes. Sealing a record, while not destroying it, restricts its accessibility, ensuring that it is hidden from public and most private entities’ background checks.

Both sealing and expungement shield your criminal history from being accessed during background checks conducted by most employers, landlords, and educational institutions. With a sealed or expunged record, you can legally deny or fail to acknowledge past criminal convictions on job applications for most types of employment.

How long does the sealing or expungement process take?

The process can vary but typically takes several months, and in rare cases, up to a year. It involves obtaining a Certificate of Eligibility from the FDLE, filing a Petition for Expungement or Sealing, and waiting for court processing and approval.

Do I need a lawyer to expunge or seal my record?

While not legally required, navigating the complex legal requirements, and ensuring all paperwork is correctly handled is crucial to avoid delays or denials. A skilled expungement lawyer can provide essential guidance and improve the chances of a successful outcome.

Do I have to disclose a sealed or expunged record under any circumstances?

Yes, there are specific situations where you must disclose sealed or expunged records:

Law Enforcement Jobs Required when seeking employment.
Criminal Defendants If charged with a crime.
Expungement/Sealing Seeking expungement/sealing.
The Florida Bar When seeking a law license.
Health & Welfare Jobs
Educational Roles: When seeking employment.
Insurance Licensing: When applying for licenses.
Guardianship When applying to become a legal guardian.
Firearm Purchases (Sealing only)
Firearm Permits (Sealing only)

Consult Florida Statutes, sections 943.0585(6)(b) (for expungement) and 943.059(6)(b) (for sealing), for the full list of exceptions.

How many times can I seal or expunge my Florida Record?

Florida law permits an individual to expunge or seal a record only once in their lifetime. If you have previously sealed or expunged a record in Florida, you are ineligible to do so again. However, having a record expunged or sealed in another state does not affect your eligibility to seek similar relief in Florida.

How do I determine if I’m eligible for expungement or sealing?

If you are uncertain about your eligibility for expungement or sealing, it is recommended to consult with an experienced Florida expungement attorney. This consultation will help you assess your situation, understand your legal options, and determine the best course of action based on your specific circumstances. At the Law Office of William B. Wynne, we offer free consultations during which we can evaluate your eligibility for expungement or sealing.

Florida Expungement Lawyer: Seal Record Florida

The Law Office of William B. Wynne provides expungement and sealing services throughout the entire state of Florida. Attorney William B. Wynne is an experienced and knowledgeable Florida expungement attorney that has successfully guided hundreds of clients through the expungement and sealing process. If you are interested in expungement or sealing in Florida, contact us today at 813-532-5057 for a free consultation.