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
If you or a loved one are contemplating the process of expungement in Florida, contact Florida expungement lawyer William B. Wynne today to discuss your options. Located in Tampa but serving the entirety of Florida’s jurisdiction, the Law Office of William B. Wynne has successfully guided over 200 clients through the nuanced and complex process of expungement and sealing across numerous counties within Florida. If you possess a criminal history originating within Florida’s jurisdiction, and provided you meet the eligibility requirements, we can help you expunge or seal your prior criminal history. Call our office today at 813-532-5057 for a free consultation.
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 isn’t just an inconvenience; it’s a stain on your record that can impact everything from employment opportunities to housing applications.
In today’s modern age of high-speed information, this issue of publicly accessible criminal records compounded exponentially. Background checks, once confined to the purview of law enforcement or hiring organizations, have expanded to the general public. Databases maintained by 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.
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.
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.
Section 943.045(16), Florida Statutes, defines “expunction of a criminal history record” as “the court-ordered physical destruction or obliteration of a record or portion of a record by any criminal justice agency having custody thereof.”1 In practical terms, an expunged record is destroyed and no longer exists, as if the arrest or charge never happened.
On the other hand, sealing a record involves a specialized form of safeguarding the information from the general public. Section 943.045(19), Florida Statutes, defines “sealing of a criminal history record” 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 When a record is sealed, it is still there, but access to it is highly restricted.
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 give you the freedom to progress without the weight of past transgressions. As a Florida expungement lawyer, William B. Wynne takes pride in helping clients free themselves from the burden of a prior criminal record.
Having your record sealed or expunged means that the court will order your criminal record to be either destroyed or removed from public access, and therefore confidential from the public, future employers, and common background searches, with certain limitations. What’s more, the law gives you the right to lawfully deny or fail to acknowledge the existence of the sealed or expunged record. In theory, it’s as if it never happened.
There are some subtle differences between the expungement process and the sealing process, regarding the level of confidentiality and privacy that is conferred. In layman’s terms, expungement results in the complete removal of records from databases where such information would typically reside. It involves the actual destruction of said records. On the other hand, sealing does not erase the record but renders it inaccessible to the public. Both measures, however, protect you from standard background checks.
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 important differences.
Expungement is governed by section 943.0585, Florida Statutes, while sealing falls under section 943.059, Florida Statutes. 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.
A predominant query, raised by approximately 95% of clients we encounter, centers around their eligibility for expungement or sealing in Florida. Unquestionably, this should be your initial consideration. Regrettably, an estimated 80% of individuals who contact our office to explore this legal procedure 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.
Florida Law explicitly enumerates a variety of offenses that are categorically ineligible for record sealing, regardless of whether adjudication has been withheld. These offenses are listed in section 943.0584, Florida Statutes.
This list can be found in section 943.0584(2)(a)-(hh), Florida Statutes.4 Even if adjudication is withheld for any of the above-listed offenses, the law prohibits the sealing of such criminal records. However, should your charges have been 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—assuming all other criteria are met.
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.
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.
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 some exceptions to this rule. Under Florida law there are specific circumstances that require disclosure of criminal history records, even if they were previously expunged or sealed.
You are legally required to disclose the existence of an expunged or sealed record under the following circumstances:
The full list of exceptions to the rule of non-disclosure can be found in section 943.0585(4)(a), Florida Statutes, for expungement and section 943.059(4)(a), Florida Statutes, for sealing.
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 handled hundreds of cases. If you are interested in expungement or sealing in Florida, contact us today at 813-532-5057 for a free consultation.