There are differences between the two within the procedure to get them done and the result.
Differences: When You Can Expunge A Criminal Record
You can expunge any criminal record of an arrest that has been dropped. This means it resulted in a:
- No Information;
- No Bill;
- Nolle Prosequi, or;
- the court dismissed the charges;
- you were found not guilty at trial.
When You Must First Seal A Criminal Record
You must first seal your record if the arrest record that you want to remove was not dropped but:
- resulted in the court withholding the adjudication of guilt and
- the offense is not prohibited by statute.
The Differences Between Sealed and Expunged Records
Many people are upset when they don’t hear the word “expunge” and instead hear “seal.” You shouldn’t. From your standpoint there are practically no differences between sealing a record or expunging a record. You receive the same benefits. The biggest difference is the use of two different words.
Some exceptions are:
- when purchasing a firearm.
- A person with a sealed record must disclose the arrest if asked when purchasing a firearm. People with expunged records may lawfully deny the arrest in that situation. It doesn’t matter either way because neither one affects your second amendment right and FDLE already knows.
- entitled entities may see the charges you were arrested for during a level 1 or 2 background check if the record is sealed. That doesn’t matter either because you have to disclose your arrests to entitled entities anyway.
Entitled entities will see the date of arrest and the charge when doing their Level 1 or Level 2 background screening if your record was sealed. They will only see the date of arrest if the record was expunged.
When It Is Expunged
When a record has been expunged the order requires that the Office of the State Attorney, the arresting agency, and the Sheriff’s Office physically destroy their actual files. The order to destroy also includes digital information (such as computer records). Identifying information such as fingerprints or DNA is excluded from this destruction.
When It Is Sealed
When a record is ordered to be sealed those same agencies do not have to destroy anything. However, they must make those records confidential and not disseminate them to anyone. The fear of legal liability usually has most of those agencies removing your record from their digital databases. Moreover, physical records of cases kept by these agencies are regularly destroyed, regardless of any court orders, due to constraints on their capacity to keep so many records.
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