Unsealing Court Records

This page provides links to Florida Case Law regarding sealing and expungements and the issues involved in unsealing court records that were previously sealed. The cases are listed below from the most recent to the earliest. A brief description follows. Citations were removed. Please refer to actual case for complete understanding.

Undoing a Seal or Expunge

Unsealing a court file that has been sealed or expunged can be done, provided the file still exists.

Florida Seal and Expunge Case Law – Unsealing Court Records

Unsealing court records previously sealed under s. 943.059 or expunged under s. 943.0585, Fla. Stat., occurs and has given rise to some appellate decisions. These usually involve third-parties attempting to gain access to a file over the petitioner’s objection.

State, FDLE v. Diana Elmufdi, 43 Fla. L. Weekly D1876a (Fla. 3d DCA, Aug. 15, 2018): FDLE filed a Writ of Certiorari to stop the court’s order requiring them to issue a Certificate of Eligibility. The Respondent had unsealed a previous sealed record (for petit theft) with the idea that she would then be eligible (again) to receive a certificate of eligibility for her new case (for grand theft). In respondent’s case, she failed to meet the statutory criteria (the second time) because she had secured a prior criminal history record sealing when she had applied to seal her records in the first case and her records were sealed pursuant to the court’s order. The fact they had been subsequently unsealed does not change that fact.

State v. Sachs, 2 F.L.W. Supp. 481a (15th Jud. Cir., Sept. 1, 1994): Case involves the request by the Palm Beach Post (media) to unseal a record that has been sealed. Records belonged to prominent attorney whose wife was running for judge. Media was investigating whether attorney received preferential treatment from State Attorney who was attorney’s former law partner. Issue, whether media has 1st Amendment right to disclosure of all criminal history information and basis for request. Court found that media has right to court file but not agency files.

Alvarez v. Reno, 587 So.2d 664 (Fla. 3d DCA 1991): Appeal was dismissed as moot. Judge Baskin (dissenting) – Section 943.058 (old statute) does not provide for the dissemination of information in sealed records to the public under any circumstances. To permit The Clerk of Court or the state attorney’s office to disseminate to the public information contained in a sealed record perverts the statute. The state attorney’s report, containing explicit, and allegedly incorrect, references to the facts in appellant’s sealed record, clearly falls under the protection provided sealed records by section 943.058 and may not be revealed. Under the statute, the state attorney’s report is a “record” because it contains factual information copied from sealed criminal records. It is totally improper to make public a report that contains sealed information.

Russell, III v. Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. State, 570 So.2d 979 (Fla. 2d DCA 1990): Trial court had jurisdiction to rehear and vacate the expungement orders, the Herald does have standing in this proceeding, the doctrine of res judicata does not bar the litigation of these issues because there is no identity of the parties. We modify the Press-Enterprise test for these proceedings as follows: (1) vacation of the expunction order would serve the public interest; (2) there is a “substantial probability” that, in the absence of vacation of the closure order, the public interest would be harmed; and (3) no less restrictive alternatives are available.

Avoiding The Need To Unseal A Sealed Or Expunged Record

There are many reasons why a person who has had his/her record sealed may need to unseal a criminal arrest record after they have gone through the trouble of having it sealed or expunged. The reasons to gain access to information in the court file are many but typically involve:

Non-Citizens

Non-U.S. Citizens need to explain all prior arrests. They cannot simply state that the case is sealed or expunged or try and verbalize why they were arrested. I.N.S. needs documentation to determine if they are eligible for legal status or require deportation.

Applicants to the Florida Bar

The Florida Bar will ask for documentation of all arrests of any applicant.

Certain Professional Associations

Other professional associations may also require thorough background investigations of all applicants.

For these reasons, anyone pursuing an order to seal or expunge their criminal arrest record should obtain certified copies of all pertinent documents from the court file prior to petitioning the court for relief. These include:

  • Final Disposition
  • Police Report
  • Charging Document

After The Record Has Been Sealed/Expunged

People should understand that once a record has been sealed or expunged the records may no longer be accessible. Some county clerks destroy the court files as soon as the order to expunge is granted (despite the fact that all orders only require the court records to be sealed). For this reason, all necessary copies should be A) certified by the Clerk of Court and B) obtained and kept secure for future reference. Unsealing court records is problematic and an unnecessary expense.


Questions

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