Can criminal charges be sealed in Florida?

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If you have been charged with a criminal offense, you know better than anyone the damaging effect that this charge can have on many aspects of your life. For example, you may find it challenging to find and hold a job. You might also struggle to find housing, get accepted to educational institutions, and more. If you want to make sure that your criminal charges are sealed in Florida — making them unavailable to the general public — you should talk to an Okaloosa County criminal defense attorney to see if you qualify.

What happens once the criminal record is sealed?

Once your criminal record is sealed or expunged, the public at large, including potential employers, will not be able to view it. However, it is important to note that even when a criminal record is sealed, some government agencies will still have access to it. Depending on the purpose of the review, they would need a court order to unseal your record. Law enforcement agencies are able to view your record, though. Once your record has been sealed, you are no longer required to disclose the arrest in most cases.

There are different scenarios that may dictate whether your records may be sealed or expunged. Read on to find out what these are.

Getting Your Records Sealed or Expunged When You Have Not Been Convicted of a Crime

It may happen that, although you were arrested, you did not end up getting convicted for the crime. If this has happened to you, your criminal record may be eligible to be sealed or expunged. To qualify for this process, you need to meet certain criteria:

  • You were arrested contrary to the law or by mistake.
  • You must not have had a criminal record sealed or expunged in the past, even if the charges were in another state.
  • You may not have a pending petition to expunge or seal another criminal record.

Your criminal defense attorney will explain to you if there are any other requirements that you must meet to be eligible to have your criminal records expunged or sealed.

Getting Your Records Sealed or Expunged When You Have Been Convicted of a Crime

Under Florida Law, there is a long list of crimes that are not eligible to be expunged or sealed if you pled guilty or nolo contendere or were found guilty. Felony and DUI convictions are on that list. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has a complete list of disqualifying offenses.

Victims of Human Trafficking

If you have been a victim of human trafficking and were later arrested or convicted of prostitution or any other obscenity offense, you may petition to have your criminal record expunged. To be successful with your request, you must have the following documents:

  • A sworn statement in which you explain that you are eligible for an expungement and confirm that there are no other pending petitions to have your criminal record sealed or expunged.
  • If available, official documentation to demonstrate that you were a victim of human trafficking.

How can you file to receive an expungement?

The rules to clean up a criminal record in Florida are extremely complex. To get started, you must obtain a certificate of eligibility from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). To obtain the certification, you must fill out the correct forms and follow all instructions.

These are some of the steps you must take:

  • You may download and complete the application for eligibility for expungement at the FDLE’s website.
  • You must attach a completed written certified statement page from the appropriate state attorney or statewide prosecutor.
  • You must provide a certified disposition for each case listed on your application. You may obtain a copy from the clerk of the county where the charges originated.
  • You must also include a completed fingerprint form and a non-refundable processing fee.
  • You must include a letter from your attorney if you have one.

Since getting your criminal records sealed or expunged can have such a great impact on your life, you should take care to ensure that the entire process is done according to the law. To avoid any mistakes or omissions, you should retain the services of a good criminal defense lawyer who is familiar with this aspect of the law and can guide you every step of the way.

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