Resolving an Arrested the Right Way
Arrests for offenses such as petit theft (shoplifting), driving while license suspended, trespassing, public urination, and many other minor offenses occur daily. They may seem innocuous and you may not take them seriously, but you should. These offenses often don’t result in a physical arrest, but are instead initiated with a Notice to Appear. Unfortunately, a notice to appear is an arrest and it starts an arrest record. Resolving these minor offenses with a withheld adjudication is paramount.
The Arrest Record
Whether you are physically arrested (handcuffed and taken to jail) or you receive a notice to appear, both are arrests. An arrest record begins upon an arrest. Arrest records are Public Records. Because public records are available to the public and sold in bulk to private background check companies, it is important that you take the right steps to resolve your case that allows you to make this record a non-public record in the future. Having the case against you dropped, dismissed, or having the adjudication withheld is key.
Public vs. Non-Public Records
Public records are records created and maintain by the government. They often include many personal details. Running a personal background check on a website such as BeenVerified.com will often shock people. There are many companies out there that provide this service and the data they sell about you is all public records.
Chapter 119, Florida Statutes: Public Records
Chapter 119 of the Florida Statutes delineates what the State of Florida considers to be a public record. Public records can be accessed by the public – in other words, anyone. Recently, there have been measures taken to remove/redact sensitive data from public records, such as social security numbers, minor’s names, etc., however, the bulk of the data remains including every time you have been arrested.
Who Checks Your Public Records?
So why is it important to know that an arrest is a public record? Many people and organizations that you come in contact with during your life will check public records about you. These include potential employees, landlords, apartment complexes, schools, banks, etc.
Making Sure Your Arrest Record is Not Permanent
Although an arrest creates a record that is classified as a public record, Florida law allows you to make it a non-public record under certain circumstances. It is important that you understand these circumstances before you resolve your arrest. The process to make an arrest record a non-public record is called a record expungement or a record sealing. In order to qualify for either one of these you must ensure that your case is resolved in a specific manner, such as having the court withhold the adjudication of guilt.
Having Legal Counsel
The most important thing you can do after you have been arrested is to obtain legal counsel. This can be either private legal counsel, who you must pay, or a public defender, if you qualify. Representation by a criminal defense attorney (private or public) is essential in making sure you do not permanently mark your life with an arrest record.
The Legal Process after Your Arrest
The first thing you need to understand is the legal process. This can be confusing and this is why you need a criminal defense attorney anytime you have been arrested.
If you are physically arrested and do not bond out before the next day, you will be brought before a judge. This is called your First Appearance or Initial Appearance. The court will determine if there was probable cause for your arrest and set up the conditions for your release. This is also the first time you are given an opportunity to enter a plea.
A plea can be Not Guilty, meaning you are going to defend yourself from these charges or you need additional time to talk with a lawyer. You have a Constitutional Right to enter a plea of not guilty and it cannot be used against you in future court proceedings. You can also enter a plea of Guilty. This admits the charges against you and the court can immediately proceed to sentencing you. A plea of No Contest indicates that you are not contesting the allegations against you and you are leaving it for the court to decide if there is a factual basis for finding you guilty of the allegations.
The arraignment will be the next hearing if you maintain a plea of “not guilty.” This is the first court date you will have to go to unless you have hired a lawyer to represent you. An arraignment is set for the court to determine the following:
- The Court informs you of what the State Attorney’s Office has charged you.
- The Court will determine if you qualify for the Public Defender to represent you if you are unrepresented.
- The Court will provide you with another opportunity to enter a plea or change your original plea.
- The prosecutor may make a offer to resolve your case.
If you enter a plea of Guilty or No Contest the court will probably resolve the case at that time. If you maintain a plea of not guilty the court will set the case for trial (unless a continuance is granted).
The Resolution of Your Case
A criminal case can be resolve in several ways:
- You can maintain a not guilty plea and have a trial.
- You can be offered alternatives to prosecution.
- You can enter a plea of guilty or no contest and be sentenced.
- You case can be dropped/dismissed.
If you decide to go to trial you should stop reading this article and consult with an attorney.
Alternatives to Prosecution
Many first offenders are offered an alternative to prosecution. These programs are run by the State Attorney’s Office and must be offered by the prosecutor. A judge cannot initiate this. These programs are typically called Pretrial Diversion [PTD] or Pretrial Intervention [PTI]. These programs have an “agreement” that you should understand fully. They will typically require participants to complete a certain amount of community service, an education component, and other goals depending on the nature of the crime. If successfully completed, the prosecutor will drop the charges (which is better than withholding the adjudication).
Entering a plea of “Guilty” or “No Contest”
The court will always entertain a change of plea. The fact that you initially entered a plea of not guilty does not preclude you from changing that plea in the future. People typically enter a plea of guilty or no contest based on an agreement with the prosecutor as to what the sentence will be. This is called a plea agreement. It means you know before you enter the plea what the sentence will be.
Agreement to a Conviction or a Withhold
In Florida you can enter a plea of guilty or no contest and be found guilty. However that does not necessarily mean you are convicted. A conviction in Florida is when the court adjudicates you guilty of the offense. An Adjudication of Guilt is a conviction. The court can withhold the adjudication of guilt and thus not convict you.
Why the Resolution of Your Case is Important
It is important how your case is resolved because that will determine whether you can make your arrest record a non-public record in the future. If you case has been dropped by the State Attorney or dismissed by the court, you may be eligible to expunge that record. If the adjudication of guilt was withheld, you may be able to seal that record.
The ability to either seal or expunge the arrest record is the ability to make that record non-public. There are more benefits to the seal/expunge procedure than I want to list here. This article is to help you resolve your case correctly so that option exists.
How to Make Your Case Non-Public
After your case has been resolved you can then determine if you are eligible or qualify to have your arrest record sealed or expunged. Sealing or expunging your record is the first step to removing this information from the public and the internet.