Many people live under the assumption that criminal records go away over time. This is not true. In most cases, criminal records remain public and never go away. Only a judge can order a criminal record to be sealed or expunged. Even without an actual conviction, a person with a criminal record can have problems finding a job, furthering their career, or even attaining a loan so they can go to school or start their own business.
For this reason, many states allow residents the option for a person's record to be sealed or expunged granting them a second chance or a clean slate in life.
Florida law is very strict in their expungement guidelines, reserving expungement or "sealing" for criminal records that do not include conviction, or in certain instances, where judgment is withheld. Sealing is ultimately available for most charges that had withheld judgment or when a defendant has been found not guilty by a jury of his or her peers. As in all states, there are guidelines that affect a person's eligibility for criminal record expungement.
Florida draws clear lines by only allowing a person who is not charged or whose case has been dismissed to qualify for expungement. Certain felonies are exceptions. Most juvenile cases are automatically expunged over a given period of time. In any event, people that do not meet this criteria can explore the option of having their record sealed, covering their record. Sealed records are only brought up when necessary.
When a record is expunged by Florida law, it is physically destroyed and cannot be accessed. Expungment records are only revealed in court or other specific instances. Florida expungement laws work best for and are made to benefit those whose charges were dropped or dismissed.
The request for expungement may be made by petition or order to the arresting court. Presence in court is not required for expungment proceedings to take place. Once the judge receives your petition, he or she makes the decision to have criminal records sealed or expunged. The order is then sent to the arresting agency, including all criminal justice agencies involved in the arrest and any other agencies that may have criminal records related to the expunged case.
The entire process can take up to six months and the prices vary. Most attorneys charge a flat rate. Once a person receives word that his or her record has been expunged, it is recommended that they run a background check on themselves 2-3 months after just to ensure everything was carried out properly.
It is strongly advised that you seek the legal counsel of an attorney when you want to get your records expunged. An attorney can help determine eligibility beforehand, which saves time and effort. Attorneys may also suggest alternatives to expungement. Removing the stigma associated with having a criminal record is worth the time and energy of the consultations and research needed to get the process moving in the right direction.