Decisions of The Florida Apellate Courts
Eric J. Dirga, P.A., Orlando
This page provides links to Florida Case Law regarding sealing and expungements and how the courts have addressed the differences between judicial and non-judicial criminal history records. The cases are list below from the most recent to the earliest. A brief description follows. Citations were removed. Please refer to actual case for complete understanding.
Florida Seal and Expunge Case Law – Judicial v. Non-Judicial Criminal History Records
Since the sealing or expungement of a criminal history record deals with judicial records (court file and clerk’s information) and non-judicial records (those records in possession of law enforcement and other outside agencies) many issues have arose. These deal with separation of powers between the judiciary and the legislative branches of government. When a court can order non-judicial records sealed or expunged is dependent on statutory law while judicial records must follow Court Rules of Procedure.
Cline v. State, 37 So. 3d 327 (Fla. 5th DCA 2010): For purposes of a petition to seal, a distinction must be made between (a) nonjudicial criminal history records, and (b) court records. The sealing of nonjudicial criminal history records, is controlled by section 943.059, Florida Statutes. That statute establishes the requirements that a petitioner must satisfy in order to have his or her nonjudicial criminal history records sealed. Anderson v. State, 692 So. 2d 250, 251 (Fla. 3d DCA 1997). However, as held in Johnson, the procedure to be utilized for the sealing of court records is within the exclusive jurisdiction of the judiciary. Cline suggests that Rules 3.962 and 3.989 do not place any limits on a court’s “inherent authority” to control its records, but only regulate the procedure and types of forms to be utilized. In essence, he is arguing that there are no rules restricting the trial court’s authority to seal a judicial record. We reject Cline’s argument. We believe the adoption of Rules 3.692 and 3.989 reflect the supreme court’s intent to limit the circumstances in which a party can request the sealing of a record so as to appropriately balance the policy of public access to court records against the competing policy of providing a second chance to criminal defendants. See D.H.W., 686 So. 2d at 1336; Anderson, 692 So. 2d at 253.
State v. Contini, 18 F.L.W. Supp 273b (17th Jud. Cir., ___, 2010): Defendant’s Petition for Expungement sought to expunge the unfiled felony count of resisting/obstructing an officer with violence and to expunge and/or seal the original arrest for resisting/obstructing a police officer with violence. Defendant seeks only to expunge that portion of the record pertaining to the unfiled felony arrest. The State argued that the Defendant did not and could not meet the conditions precedent for an expungement. The State did not differentiate between a request for full expungement and the partial expungement requested by Defendant. The State’s focus is on full expungement. Defendant contends that the trial court should be affirmed based upon the specific language of § 943.0585, Fla. Stat. (2009) which states [t]his section does not prevent the Court from ordering the expunction of only a portion of a criminal history record pertaining to one arrest or one incident of alleged criminal activity. The Defendant also cites to § 775.021 (1), Fla. Stat. (2009) concerning statutory construction and requirement that a statute be construed most favorably to the accused. Based on the foregoing the trial court’s order granting expungement of only a portion of a judicial record containing criminal history information and a portion of a criminal history record is AFFIRMED.
Harman v. State, 12 So.3d 898 (Fla. 2d DCA 2009): The procedure to expunge judicial records and nonjudicial criminal history records is governed by Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.692 and section 943.0585, Florida Statutes (2007). In the present case, the State acknowledges that Mr. Harman satisfied the requirements of section 943.0585 and rule 3.692 for the expunction of his criminal history records and judicial records. However, as noted by the State and Mr. Harman, even where a petitioner has satisfied all of the statutory requirements, section 943.0585 gives the trial court the discretion to deny expunction. A trial court has the discretion to deny a petition if there is a good reason for denial based on the facts and circumstances of the individual case. Harman was charged by information with the second-degree murder of his wife. However, on April 27, 2006, the State filed a nolle prosequi in the case. The trial court denied the petition based on its finding that the charged offense was serious and its finding that Mr. Harman previously had been accused of a domestic violence offense. The seriousness of the offense, standing alone, is insufficient to support the denial of the petition. At the hearing, the prosecutor stated that Mr. Harman previously had been accused of domestic violence by his former wife and that his former wife alleged that Mr. Harman had threatened to kill her and had told her that he could make it look like self-defense. However, there was no testimony or documentary evidence presented to support the prosecutor’s statements. Therefore, the trial court erred in relying on the attorney’s statements to support its findings.
Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles v. Rigau, 901 So.2d 339 (Fla. 2d DCA 2005): Petitioner was stopped for driving under the influence of alcohol and refused the breathalyzer test. The underlying DUI charge was dismissed. However, petitioner’s driver’s license was suspended for his failure to take the breath test. Rigau sought certiorari review of the suspension in circuit court and was denied the requested relief. Petitioner moved below to seal DHSMV’s suspension record. The trial court granted Rigau’s motion and sealed the record of his driver’s license suspension. The suspension of a driver’s license is an administrative proceeding and is a civil, not a criminal, sanction. Sections 943.0585 and 943.059 specifically refer to the sealing and expunging of criminal history information. Since the suspension of a license is not criminal in nature, these records do not fall within the scope of sections 943.0585 and 943.059.
State v. J.D.E., 622 So.2d 8 (Fla. 2d DCA 1993): Considers previous statute 943.058. Reaffirms P.D.A. with regards to judicial records. Court disagrees with state’s position that non-judicial records such as police reports, affidavits, and witness statements should not be sealed. Court disagrees because the broad language of 943.058(2) states that the courts may order the sealing or expunction of any other criminal history record.
State v. P.D.A., 618 So.2d 282 (Fla. 2d DCA 1993): Deals with previous statute 943.058. Indicating that nonjudicial records can be ordered sealed provided petitioner complies with statute. However, adopting that Court records are not subject to the standards set forth by statute, but are subject to the constitutional scrutiny established in Press-Enterprise. That test allows closure if (1) closure serves a compelling interest; (2) there is a `substantial probability’ that, in the absence of closure, that compelling interest would be harmed; and (3) there are not alternatives to closure that would adequately protect that compelling interest. See lengthy dissent.
Johnson v. State, 336 So.2d 93 (Fla. 1976): Case considered early statute that did not distinguish court records from non-judicial records. Recognized value of expungement statute to society. Statute violated separation of powers. Statute was valid in that it granted a substantive right to defendants. Achieved legislative intent by requiring that the courts only seal their records under the statute. Court, thereafter, considered (and created) a rule of procedure to effectuate the legislative intent of statute. Recognized that courts have the discretion to seal their records from public view wherein the ends of justice may be served.
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