In Florida, when you are arrested for a crime, the arrest record and other associated records are created and kept by the government. Even if you are not ultimately convicted, these records can often be seen by current or future employers, financial lenders, landlords, friends, and others, which could have serious consequences. Fortunately, under Florida law, there are two ways to potentially minimize the impact of an arrest record: record sealing and expungement. While these two words are often used interchangeably, they are different processes with different results. The process can be complex, but Daniel J. Fernandez, PA is here to help. In this blog post, we will discuss the difference between record sealing and expungement, and how our experienced criminal defense attorneys can assist you in navigating the process.
What is Record Sealing?
Record sealing is the process of placing an arrest record and other associated records under court-ordered confidentiality—think of them as under “lock and key”. When a record is sealed, it still exists, but the general public does not have access to it. Certain entities such as law enforcement, courts, and certain employers or licensing agencies may still access the record, but only for specific purposes, which your attorney can explain to you.
Under Florida law (specifically, Florida Statutes § 943.059), certain arrest records may be eligible for sealing if certain eligibility criteria are met. Specifically, if you were not convicted of a crime or adjudication was withheld for certain types of crimes (such as certain misdemeanors) that are not disqualifying, you may be eligible to have your record sealed. However, certain types of criminal charges are not eligible for sealing, such as certain violent offenses or sexual offenses.
What is Expungement?
Expungement is like sealing in that it involves the removal of an arrest record from public access. However, unlike sealing, expungement results in the complete destruction of the record. According to Florida law (specifically, Florida Statutes § 943.0585), certain individuals who were arrested but never convicted or who had their charges dropped or dismissed may be eligible for expungement.
Record Sealing vs Expungement: Key Differences
- Eligibility: While both record sealing and expungement are available to individuals with criminal records, eligibility requirements differ. Generally, record sealing is available for individuals who were not convicted or adjudicated guilty of a crime. Expungement, on the other hand, is typically available for those who have completed a pretrial diversion program or had their charges dismissed.
- Access to Records: With record sealing, certain government agencies and law enforcement can still access your sealed record. In contrast, expungement completely erases the record, making it inaccessible even to these entities.
- Scope: Record sealing only hides your record from public view, while expungement eliminates the record entirely. As a result, expungement offers broader protection and privacy.