Sealing vs. Expunging a Criminal Record in Florida

By: James Davis

These are key reasons why it is important to properly defend yourself against all charges at the outset to potentially prevent criminal convictions. Unfortunately, even cases that you win or that are dismissed may still be public record, popping up in background checks years or even decades later. Fortunately, even if you already have items in your criminal record, there may be a way to get a fresh start–sealing or expunging that record. These are processes that the state of Florida allows to help those with certain criminal records avoid some of the tangential consequences that result.

What is the difference between sealing and expunging a record?

“Sealing” a criminal record means that all of the information related to your criminal case is closed to public viewing. When a record is sealed the court system and criminal justice agencies no longer allow others to learn of the details or even existence of the case. There are some exceptions, but the only way for another to view a sealed criminal record is to obtain a judge’s order to unseal it.

“Expunction” (Expunging a record) is a bit more far-reaching, because it refers to the physical destruction of records of a criminal case. One copy of the records is technically maintained by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, but that record is also sealed from the public.

Considering the more comprehensive nature of an expunction, there are more limitations on when a case can be expunged. Initially, only certain records can be expunged and only those where the criminal charges were eventually dropped or dismissed by the court. Alternatively if adjudication was withheld or you were found not guilty in a trial, you will likely only be able to seal the record.

There are numerous requirements and limitations on these matters–it can get complicated quite quickly. It is important to discuss your situation with a criminal attorney to learn how the law might apply in your case depending on what charges you are seeking to expunge, when they occurred, and what has happened between now and then.

Getting a Fresh Start

Having your record sealed or expunged can be very helpful, because it removes the records from the “Criminal Justice Information System” — where criminal background check information is pulled.  In fact, it is a first degree misdemeanor for involved parties to divulge information about criminal records that were sealed or expunged. If a criminal justice agency is asked about your past record, they cannot say that you even had a record if your case was sealed or expunged.

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