An expungement or sealing is the process under Florida law of removing an arrest from the public record and preventing the further dissemination (sale) of it (see what is an expungement page for more information). Under Florida law, there are additional expungement benefits.
The moment you are arrested (or receive a Notice to Appear in Court) you have a criminal history that is maintained by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement [FDLE]. Additionally, the County Clerk of Court also generates a record of the offense. Both FDLE and the Clerk of Court sell these records or otherwise make them publically available for free on the web.
Law enforcement (the arresting agency and the County Sheriff’s Office) also maintain these records. Law enforcement records are not public records until the criminal case is resolved (although many love to post mugshots immediately). After the case is resolved they become public records (so long as no active investigations are pending).
An Expunged or Sealed Record Is No Longer A Public Record
Under Florida law, criminal records are public records. One of the biggest expungement benefits for a sealed or expunged record is that it is no longer a public record:
A criminal history record ordered expunged (or sealed) that is retained by the department is confidential and exempt from the provisions of s. 119.07(1) and s. 24(a), Art. I of the State Constitution and not available to any person or entity except upon order of a court of competent jurisdiction**.
**This subjects anyone that discloses it to liability. Liability is not automatic but the possibility is usually enough to have most private companies remove the information from their records as well.
Once Your Record is Ordered Sealed or Expunged
Expungement benefits include many things. These include the ordering of specific agencies to make confidential or physically destroy their records.
What The Clerk of Court Must Do
The Clerk of Court must remove all public access to your record. This means it will no longer be available for search on the Clerk’s website nor will it be available for inspections at the Clerk’s office. Additionally, the Clerk of Court will no longer sell your information to private parties.
Since it has been removed you can actually obtain a letter from the Clerk of Court indicating that no record exists. This comes in a certified letter that you can keep. See, What to do after your record has been sealed/expunged.
What Law Enforcement Must Do
The arresting agency and the County’s Sheriff’s Office must remove all access to those files. An expungement order requires the agency to physically destroy the record of your arrest. A sealing order requires them to make all records confidential. Regardless, in both circumstances the information cannot be disclosed.
What The State Attorney’s Office Must Do
Like law enforcement, the State Attorney’s Office must also destroy their records (expungement) or make them confidential (sealing). A sealing or expungement makes these records non-public records and prevents them from further disclosure.
What The Florida Department of Law Enforcement Must Do
The F.D.L.E. maintains a repository of every Florida arrest in its database. These records are easily accessed from their website for a small fee. Once your criminal record has been sealed or expunged the F.D.L.E. will remove access to these records from their site. Additionally, the F.D.L.E. will also stop selling that information to private companies. They will also forward the order to the FBI.
Expungement Benefits: Making Your Arrest Disappear
The ultimate goal for everyone seeking to seal or expunge their record is to have it disappear. People want it gone and expect it to be gone – completely and forever. Unfortunately, that is not exactly what happens. Below I go through some things that can be done to come as close as possible to complete redaction of your record.
I not only represent you during the petitioning phase of the expungement process, I also prepare all documents and process everything for you. This starts at the very beginning and lasts after your record has been sealed or expunged.
Can An Expunged Record Be Found
Can a record that has been sealed or expunged be found? The answer to that is maybe. Usually right after a record has been sealed or expunged private background checking companies still have not updated their records and are still selling it. This is normal even though your record is no longer a public record.
Unlike government agencies where the official records are kept, private companies are not notified by the court. Most reputable companies will purge their database of a sealed or expunged record within a year.
If they are notified of the record being sealed or expunged they will do it even sooner. There are a few companies that claim to be able to notify these companies for a fee. There is also a non-profit that claims to do this for no fee. See, What to do after…
Using The Law To Your Benefit
The law specifically states that a person that has had their record sealed or expunged
may lawfully deny or fail to acknowledge the arrests covered by the expunged [or sealed] record. This allows you to deny that the arrest occurred and/or that you were the subject of that arrest (there are a few exceptions).
This comes in particularly handy when a private background check company has not updated their records and you are asked about it. Combine this with a criminal records history check from the Clerk’s Office (noted above) and you have a lot to refute the accusation.
For more information on what you can do to make the law have more teeth go to my after your record is expunged page.
Contacting the Private Companies
Once the Clerk of Court finishes expunging or sealing your case, they will send a copy of the order. Typically, the order we receive is a certified copy. Today, the order may be an electronic copy (since the courts are moving toward a paperless work environment).
With either copy you will be able to contact any company still disclosing the arrest information and request that they remove the information (if you decide to not use a company service or non-profit as noted above).
If You Want More Information
If you want to find out more about expungement benefits, please fill out the form below. I try to reply within 24 hours during normal business hours.