More than 70 million people in the U.S. have criminal records. Because of these records, many Floridians are subject to laws and regulations that restrict their rights. Can you avoid the worst consequences of having a criminal record? A Tampa expungement attorney may be able to help.

Some of the consequences of having a criminal record are unreasonable, arbitrary, and completely unrelated to any crime or criminal conviction. Even a misdemeanor conviction for a non-violent crime could continue to appear on background checks for the remainder of your life.

As you know, the internet allows anyone to conduct a criminal background check with merely the click of a mouse. If employers are rejecting you, or if you are turned down when you try to find housing, something in your criminal record may be the reason.

However, in Florida, many criminal records can be sealed or expunged. Not everyone will qualify for sealing or expungement, the process isn’t easy, and you’ll need a good defense lawyer’s advice and services.

What is Expungement? What is “Sealing” a Criminal Record?

First, some definitions. “Expungement” is the deletion of a criminal record, while “sealing” restricts access to criminal records. In some cases, if a criminal record cannot be expunged, you may at least be able to have your criminal record sealed.

Sealing your record means that the court will keep that record inaccessible to the general public, including employers and landlords. However, the existence of your criminal record, but not the details, may nevertheless be disclosed if:

1. You seek to buy a firearm.

2. You are charged with a subsequent crime.

3. You seek employment with or access to a Florida seaport.

4. You apply for a job in law enforcement or a license from the Florida Bar to practice law in this state.

5. You seek a job, license, or contract with the Florida Department of Children and Families, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Department of Education, the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, or the Agency for Health Care Administration.

6. You apply for a job or a contract with a public or private school or a childcare facility.

What Happens When a Criminal Record is Expunged?

Expungement is more comprehensive. When your criminal history is expunged, the records are physically destroyed and therefore unavailable to anyone, with one exception.

One copy will be retained by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) for disclosure, if deemed necessary, to law enforcement agencies.

Nevertheless, sealing or expunging your criminal history lets you legally tell landlords and most potential employers that you have not been convicted of a crime.

What is the First Step?

Whether you are sealing or expunging a criminal record, the process begins by requesting, with your attorney’s help, a Certificate of Eligibility to Seal or Expunge from the FDLE.

You must obtain the Certificate of Eligibility before the sealing or expungement process can continue. Before a Certificate of Eligibility will be issued, the FDLE determines if an applicant is legally eligible to petition the court for sealing or expungement.

However, that eligibility alone is no guarantee that you will be able to seal or expunge your criminal record. If your record includes a violent felony, a domestic violence conviction, multiple arrests, or multiple convictions, sealing or expunging your record may be more difficult.

How is a Record Sealed or Expunged?

How will a defense attorney help you expunge or seal your criminal record? If you have obtained a Certificate of Eligibility and meet certain other requirements, Florida law provides for several different sealing and expungement procedures.

For instance, the arrest of a juvenile or an adult, if that arrest was wrongful or made by mistake, may be expunged “administratively” (without a judicial hearing) by applying to the FDLE with your attorney’s help.

Florida criminal courts have authority over the state’s judicial records. Upon receiving a Certificate of Eligibility, your attorney can request a hearing to have your criminal record sealed or expunged.

What Will the Court Consider?

Filing a petition to seal or expunge entitles you to a formal hearing to determine whether the facts, circumstances, and public interests justify the request to seal or expunge a criminal record. The denial of a petition requires a written order spelling out the reasons for the court’s decision.

The court must take into account all of the facts and circumstances of the original case. In the absence of a good reason for the denial of a petition for sealing or expungement, the petitioner is, in the words of Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals, “entitled to relief.”

Because young people often make mistakes, learn their lesson, and become law-abiding adults, most juvenile records in the State of Florida can be expunged, and the process is usually easier than expunging an adult criminal record.

How Are Juvenile Records Sealed or Expunged?

If you have a criminal record as a juvenile, you may qualify for one of these expungement procedures:

1. juvenile diversion expungement
2. automatic juvenile expungement
3. early juvenile expungement

Anyone who has successfully completed an authorized juvenile diversion program for a misdemeanor may apply for a juvenile diversion expungement.

The criminal record of a minor will automatically be expunged at age 21 (or age 26 if the minor was ordered to a juvenile correctional facility or prison) provided that certain conditions are met, including having no “forcible” felony charges or convictions as an adult.

Someone between the ages of 18 and 21 may qualify for early juvenile expungement if he or she has not been charged with or convicted of any criminal offense within the previous five years.

An Attorney’s Guidance is Essential

If you seek to seal or expunge any arrest, criminal charge, or criminal conviction in Florida, you must have the right attorney’s help from the beginning. The legal paperwork required for sealing or expungement is extensive, and it must be complete and accurate.

Any misunderstandings or mistakes could delay the procedure or even cause the rejection of your petition by the court, but a good Tampa expungement attorney will see to it that there are no mistakes in the paperwork and no unnecessary delays in the process.

In Florida, if you qualify, it is your right to have your criminal record sealed or expunged, and there is no reason why you should not exercise that right – as quickly as possible.