The latest expungement objection (more specifically toward the sealing of records) has to do with the statutory language (that can be found in both ss. 943.0585 and 943.059, Fla. Stats.); “A criminal history record that relates to a violation of…[.]” Prosecutors (and judges) are now arguing that even if they drop, orally amend, or otherwise modify the original charges, if a person was originally charged with a prohibited offense then they are prohibited from sealing their arrest.
This was first raised not by the prosecution but by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement [FDLE]. FDLE refused to issue a Certificate of Eligibility because, in their minds, the offense the defendant admitted to was “related to” (but was not) the initial charge which were prohibited by statute.
Lazard v. Florida, 229 So.3d 439 (Fla. 5th DCA 2017)
In Lazard v. State, 229 So.3d 439 (Fla. 5th DCA 2017), the appellant was denied a Certificate of Eligibility to have his record sealed. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement [FDLE] originally denied the Certificate of Eligibility because FDLE claimed the charge “related to” an offense prohibited from being sealed.
The Appellant was originally charged (by Information) with Aggravated Child Abuse, a crime specifically prohibited from being sealed. Ultimately, the State agreed that the appellant could plea to the offense of Contributing to the Dependency of a Child, a misdemeanor (not specifically prohibited by statute). The State did not file an amended Information setting forth facts about the offense of contributing to the dependency of a minor. Id., footnote 1.
Several years later the appellant applied for a Certificate of Eligibility from the FDLE. He was denied the certificate. FDLE’s explanation was that his criminal history related to a prohibited offense.
Appellant filed a motion to compel which was denied by the Circuit Court. The Circuit Court’s reasoning was that the appellant had pled to a charge that “relates to” an act of domestic violence. From this ruling the appeal was initiated.
The District Court Ruling
The District Court made a specific ruling on when FDLE must issue a Certificate of Eligibility. Citing section 943.059(2), Florida Statutes, the Court pointed out the clear language of the statute. FDLE “shall issue” a certificate of eligibility so long as the applicant follows subsections (a) thru (f). If an applicant complied with the statute, FDLE must issue the certificate.
That part of the ruling really didn’t change much, except maybe to temper FDLE’s enthusiasm to make prophylactic legal objections outside of the courtroom. However, the reason for the initial denial by FDLE of the appellant’s certificate had been raised and will lead more prosecutors to using the “relates to” objection in the future.
But there are problems with this…
“A criminal history record that ‘relates to’ a violation of…”
Both the expungement statute (s. 943.0585, Fla. Stat.) and the sealing statute (s. 943.059, Fla. Stat.) have the identical language that this new objection surrounds. Specifically:
A criminal history record that relates to a violation of s. 393.135, s. 394.4593, s. 787.025, chapter 794, former s. 796.03, s. 800.04, s. 810.14, s. 817.034, s. 825.1025, s. 827.071, chapter 839, s. 847.0133, s. 847.0135, s. 847.0145, s. 893.135, s. 916.1075, a violation enumerated in s. 907.041, or any violation specified as a predicate offense for registration as a sexual predator pursuant to s. 775.21, without regard to whether that offense alone is sufficient to require such registration, or for registration as a sexual offender pursuant to s. 943.0435, may not be expunged, without regard to whether adjudication was withheld, if the defendant was found guilty of or pled guilty or nolo contendere to the offense, or if the defendant, as a minor, was found to have committed, or pled guilty or nolo contendere to committing, the offense as a delinquent act.
-Section 943.0585, Florida Statutes, dealing with the expungement of records.
A criminal history record that relates to a violation of s. 393.135, s. 394.4593, s. 787.025, chapter 794, former s. 796.03, s. 800.04, s. 810.14, s. 817.034, s. 825.1025, s. 827.071, chapter 839, s. 847.0133, s. 847.0135, s. 847.0145, s. 893.135, s. 916.1075, a violation enumerated in s. 907.041, or any violation specified as a predicate offense for registration as a sexual predator pursuant to s. 775.21, without regard to whether that offense alone is sufficient to require such registration, or for registration as a sexual offender pursuant to s. 943.0435, may not be sealed, without regard to whether adjudication was withheld, if the defendant was found guilty of or pled guilty or nolo contendere to the offense, or if the defendant, as a minor, was found to have committed or pled guilty or nolo contendere to committing the offense as a delinquent act.
-Section 943.059, Florida Statutes, dealing with the sealing of records.
The Argument and Absurd Results
The logical thought process that a lesser charge someone enters a plea to “relates to” the original charge he was arrested for makes sense – in one respect. The defendant would not have been found guilty of the lesser charge had he or she not first been arrested or charged for the higher charge.
Anyone who has practice criminal law knows that a police report is often embellished and incomplete and overcharged. Prior to a trial, the relationship between the police report (or the charging document based on the police report) and what the defendant ultimately takes responsibility for is, most often, speculative after the fact.
One of the best and most common examples of this is the often mistakenly charged “Burglary of a Dwelling” offense (prohibited from being sealed) that turns into a simple trespass. Does the trespass “relate to” the burglary of a dwelling? Should a person seeking to seal his arrest record where he was ultimately found guilty of trespass be denied because he was arrested for burglary?
The other problem is over-charging. It is law enforcement that decides what will show up first on a person’s arrest record. An arrest record begins with the arrest. A person arrested for “Burglary of a Dwelling” will have an arrest record starting with a date of arrest for a burglary, not a trespass. It is not modified to show the outcome of the criminal case. Whether it was reduced, dropped, or never filed on will only appear at the bottom, in some acronym language, if at all.
The Point is for a Second Chance
The original point of sections 943.0585 (expungement) and 943.059 (sealing) were to give people a second chance. Today, the purpose is two-fold. In the past the protection, which allowed for denial of the arrest, would have been enough. Today, with the advent of the Information Age, the protection is to also remove the blemish from the internet record.
It helps no one to have people pay for an over-charged offense, that potentially enforces a barrier to employment, promotion, or any type of financial advancement, for a lifetime. We all do better when we collectively all do better. By allowing a legal method for removing an arrest record after the person has paid their “debt to society” not only makes sense, it is just.
What You Must Do to Protect Your Client
After the Lazard case, it would seem that a defendant should use all methods to protect him or herself when coming to a resolution. Amending a prohibited offense to a lesser crime that can be sealed has been the first step. Now, an oral amendment by the Office of the State Attorney may not be enough.
Physically amending the information, spelling out only the elements of the lesser offense may be required (and is the best option for serious offenses). Unfortunately, we all know that would mean extra work for the prosecution and they are already swamped. Asking for this “effort” is necessary for serious crimes but may be impractical for “common” crimes (I’ll leave that to your imaginations).
Having the prosecutor, at the time of the oral amendment, state on-the-record that his or her office will not object to a subsequent request to seal the record (provided the defendant otherwise qualifies) may be the best option. I would also ask that it be annotated on the defendant’s disposition.
Contact Eric J Dirga PA
Please note the date this article was published. The information listed above is subject to change as changes are made to the laws. The information written above is meant only to be for Informational Purposes Only and is not legal advice.
If any corrections or errors are found please notify me as soon as possible.
Eric Dirga has been a member of the Florida Bar since 1995. His office is Eric J. Dirga, PA, located in Orlando, FL. He provides legal representation for expungement and sealing of records throughout the state of Florida.