SEALING AND EXPUNGING CRIMINAL RECORDS IN TAMPA
Whenever someone is arrested and fingerprinted, a criminal record is created. In Florida, that information is available to the public. Everyone can see it unless it is sealed or expunged.
Employer background checks are routine now, so if you have a criminal record, expunging or sealing that record is a wise choice. However, it’s also a choice that is made quite difficult and sometimes impossible by Florida law.
WHAT RECORDS CAN BE SEALED OR EXPUNGED IN FLORIDA?
Not every criminal record in Florida can be sealed or expunged. Only certain arrest records and charges – not convictions – may be hidden from public view. If an arrest and a charge led to a conviction, the arrest and charge cannot be sealed or expunged.
Arrests and charges may be sealed or expunged only if the charges qualify: that is, if the charges were dropped or dismissed, if adjudication was withheld, or if a defendant was found not guilty at trial.
And even if adjudication was withheld, the arrest records for many sex crimes and crimes of violence in Florida can never be sealed or expunged.
What this means is that if you’ve ever been convicted of a crime in Florida – even for something like reckless driving – you cannot seal an arrest record if you were convicted on the charge that you were arrested for. Even the best defense lawyer won’t be able to help you.
WHO CAN SEE EXPUNGED CRIMINAL RECORDS?
Expungement and sealing are not the same thing. Expungement is a better option if it’s available. It erases information about your criminal case from police and court computers. Even so, law enforcement agencies and the Department of Education are allowed to access expunged records.
Sealing a criminal record in Florida is almost the same thing as expunging it. After a record is sealed, it can be expunged after ten years. Florida law assumes that a judge will grant a motion to seal or expunge if the defendant qualifies.
A judge may deny a request to seal or expunge a criminal record, but if the judge cannot set forth a sufficient legal reason for denying the request, the denial may be overturned by an appeals court.
In fact, Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal has determined that “once an applicant satisfies the criteria … the applicant is presumptively entitled to an order to seal or expunge court records.”
WHAT IS THE BENEFIT OF SEALING OR EXPUNGING A CRIMINAL RECORD?
Most people want to make every effort to erase a criminal history. A judge’s decision to seal or expunge a record provides some confirmation that an arrest was wrongfully made or a criminal charge was wrongfully filed.
Sealing or expunging a record is one more way to help find employment and housing that may otherwise be denied to you. Sealing or expunging a record is not an iron-clad guarantee that no one will ever see the record, but it’s better than simply giving up on your future.
Criminal background checks are available from the major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Under federal law, sealing or expunging a record prevents a court or a law enforcement agency from providing that record to these agencies.
HOW DOES THE FAIR CREDIT REPORTING ACT PROTECT YOU?
The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act forbids any background check that a job candidate does not give an employer permission to conduct, and it requires employers to give applicants the opportunity to dispute damaging information returned by a background check.
If a sealed or expunged record appears on a background check for any reason, a job applicant can show the employer the order to seal or expunge, which again is evidence that the arrest was wrongful or that the criminal charge was wrongly filed.
Florida allows you to seal or expunge a criminal record only once. You cannot seal or expunge a second arrest, charge, or conviction, so if you are a career criminal or if you have multiple prior convictions, you will not be eligible to seal or expunge your records.
DON’T SELECT THE WRONG ATTORNEY
Sealing and expunging criminal records in Florida is an exceedingly complex procedure, so you can’t work with an attorney who does not have substantial experience in this area of the law.
Tampa expungement attorney Patrick B. Courtney has extensive experience sealing and expunging criminal records for his clients in Pasco, Sarasota, Hillsborough, Polk, Pinellas, and Manatee counties.
He’s a former prosecutor who now works as a defense attorney, and he knows how difficult it can be to seal or expunge a criminal record in Florida. His background and years of experience make him the trusted attorney of choice for those who seek to seal or expunge a criminal record.
Learn more. Call Pat Courtney’s law offices at (813) 967-2000 or completing the brief contact form on this website.