The 2015 and 2016 Florida legislatures had very well thought out Bills to expand the ability of people to expunge and seal their criminal history. Neither session was able to bring either bill into law. In 2017, the legislature seems to have given up for the following reasons:
- The “Information Age” will soon be at an end and people will no longer be haunted by arrests that resulted in dismissals, no bills, or acquittals.
- It is already quite difficult for employers to look up a person’s background so expunging or sealing a record is not that important.
- The Clerk’s of Courts and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement have each agreed to stop selling public records to private companies.
Obviously, this is simply me being facetious. The Information Age is here for good, it is very easy to look up a persons background (in very personal ways), and that is due to the fact that the Clerk’s of the Florida Courts and F.D.L.E. are all selling your (seemingly) private information to companies that sell it over the internet.
What Needs To Be Done – Expand Expungements
In 2015, a Bill was proposed that would have expanded expungements and sealings greatly. It passed every committee and every vote. All it needed was the Governor’s signature. Unfortunately, it never made it to his desk. In 2016, a watered down version of that Bill was introduced and got hammered. It never made it out of committee. The 2016 Bill simply made any arrest that resulted in a dismissal or no bill to be expungeable. Currently, if a person is arrested and the charges are ultimately dropped, dismissed, or never filed on – he or she can expunge such an arrest only once. Additional arrests that result in the same type of disposition remain on that person’s record.
The things that need to be done to protect people from a lifetime handicap is two-fold. First, a law needs to be passed preventing the sale of public records concerning criminal cases that have not been fully adjudicated. The law must also prevent the sale of public records of criminal cases that have resulted in a dismissal or no bill. Finally, a law must be passed that allows any arrest that results in a dismissal, no bill, or acquittal to be expunged. It cannot be limited to only one.
It’s Not Fear. It’s Fair.
Many people seem to oppose this because they think the public has a “right” to know such information. That’s understandable but the issue of this article concerns those people who were arrested but were never found guilty of any wrong doing. People tend to see only the arrest from an arrest history and then allow their imagination to fill in the rest of the story.
Lay-people typically cannot read an arrest history. An arrest history starts off with what law enforcement arrests the person for – not what he/she is officially charged with (if they are even charged). Rarely, does the lay-person read down to the disposition – if a disposition is even included. Ultimately, the only thing that matters for the lay-person reading an arrest history is what the arrest was for. This places a lot of weight simply on the arrest regardless of outcome.
It is only fair that a person, who has been arrested and ultimately had no charges filed or the charges were dropped, be able to have that arrest expunged. Fair for the simple reason that no one should be scarred for life for an arrest that resulted in the person being not guilty of anything. Fair in that a person should not be given just one opportunity to chear his or her record from such arrests.
Fair because we cannot handicap people simply for contact with law enforcement. Punishment should not flow to someone found guilty of nothing.