There is a misconception that Florida criminal records go away after a specific time. This is incorrect. This belief is based, not on the fact that the record has disappeared – which it hasn’t, but that certain employment background checks only search back a specific number of years. However, the record remains a public record and is accessible forever unless the record has been sealed or expunged under Florida Law.
How Long Does A Misdemeanor or Felony Remain On My Record?
A common question concerns how long an arrest stays on a person’s record. People are confused by this because:
- They do not realize that a “criminal” record is actually an “arrest” record.
- They believe that dropped criminal cases are not on their record.
- They believe that the record mysteriously goes away after a number of years.
These are misconceptions that are based on misunderstanding the terminology and/or the common beliefs that exist. Public records are public forever unless you have your arrest record expunged or sealed.
Technology Makes It Easy
Not only are arrest records public records, technology today allows anyone with a computer or smartphone to look these up over the internet. Now you can not only find the case, you can search the actual documents and download them. Want to read your police report? It’s all there, online.
A “Criminal Record” is Actually an “Arrest Record”
One of the biggest misconceptions about a criminal record is when it actually starts. A criminal record is the record people want removed so it does not affect them in the future. Most people believe that if their criminal case gets dropped, dismissed, or they are found Not Guilty after a trial, the “record” goes away or never exists.
Records Do Not Go Away Because Charges Were Dropped
It is an incorrect belief that a record goes away because the charges were dropped. A criminal record is the recording of events that happen once a person is arrested. It begins from the moment of arrest (the term “arrest” includes a “Notice to Appear”). From that point, everything that happens to the person in relation to that arrest is recorded and made a public record.
BackgroundChecks.com (a private company that sells arrest records).
A Criminal Record is Not Affected by the Outcome of the Court Case
The public recording of everything from the moment of arrest is a protection for the people. It is suppose to prevent the government from making arrests and “disappearing” people, and it works. The one bad side-effect is that the record can haunt a person long after the case has been concluded. This includes cases that result in the dismissal of the charges.
A common example today is the overbroad crime of domestic violence. Easily 75% of all domestic violence arrests are never even charged by the prosecuting authority. However, the person arrested will have a criminal record indicating an arrest for domestic violence, and with it will be all the stigmas associated with it.
A Criminal Record Does Not Disappear Automatically After a Specific Time
Public records laws are used to make government more transparent. They are a protection for the people. We want to be able to scrutinize the activities of government. Therefore, public records remain public. This includes criminal records.
Some people believe that criminal records disappear after a specific period of time. This is also incorrect. The cause for this misconception is probably due to the method by which records are made available or the policy of the employer.
Government Records (Distribution)
Government will sometimes provide public records in various formats in order to better serve the people. An example of this are records held by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles [DMV]. Driver’s records are made available in three formats; 3-year, 7-year, and lifetime.
➠ Example: When a person with an arrest that occurred 8-years ago reviews his or her criminal history, that only shows the public records for the past 7-years, they may believe that their record is no longer available (that it no longer exists).
Employer Standard Practices
Employers may decide that they will check the criminal background of a potential employee but only consider arrests that happened within a specified time frame. Everything before that time frame will be ignored.
➠ Example: An employer asks a potential employee if they have been arrested within the last 7-years. If the arrest occurred 8-years ago, the potential employee answers no. The record is still there but it may leave the impression on the applicant that the record “disappears” after 7-years.
These arbitrary time frames created by either government of employer policy has lead many people to believe that the record is gone when it has not.
A Public Record Is Forever, unless…
A public record is forever. In the history of all great societies, the bureaucracies that arose kept detailed records of government. The bureaucracies here in the United States are massive, and today we have huge amounts of electronic storage to manage it all. And most of this is accessible on the internet.
For all those things we can search for on the internet, the last thing we want public is our criminal history. This is especially true if we have a single arrest back when we were young. Unfortunately, that is exactly what is happening.
Today, courts and Clerk’s convert every document into a PDF and post it online. There are some restrictions but for criminal cases – those deal with the victims, not the defendant.
You have to make your arrest record a non-public document. In Florida, if the record is not a public record – you will not find it on any government website. The only way to do this with a criminal record is by expunging or sealing the record.
A Florida Expungement or Sealing Turns a Public Record into a Confidential Record
Both the Florida expungement and sealing statutes specifically make expunged and sealed records non-public. This is the only way to make these records “disappear” from your criminal history (arrest record). If you have been arrested, your case is now closed, and you qualify to have this done, it should be the first thing you do.
Expunging your record actually makes certain government agencies destroy those records. Sealing your record makes all agencies treat your record as confidential – not a public record.
You have to qualify to have your record either expunged or sealed. Once you know which one you qualify for, you should get it done immediately.
For More Information Emailed to You
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.
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