Many people would like to seal or expunge their arrest record without the cost of hiring an expungement lawyer. Below is some information that hopefully helps you decide if you need to hire a lawyer or if you think you can do this yourself.
Do You Need An Expungement Lawyer
Do you need an expungement lawyer? This is the first thing people ask themselves when they decide to seal or expunge their record. If you have done any online research you will find many sites that seem to assist people in this process without the need for a legal professional (I have listed most of theses websites here). Before you decide, there are a few things you should consider:
- There is a lot of information posted on the web about this procedure.
- A lot of the information on the web is from a Clerk of Court and the State Attorney’s Office of various counties.
- The F.D.L.E. also has a lot of information on their website concerning the expunging or sealing of criminal arrest records.
- None of the above-named entities can legally assist you in this endeavor.
- The State Attorney’s Office represents the entity opposing you in court.
- Time to completion is usually an issue.
- I have had to correct many mistakes for people trying to do this on their own.
- An appeal of a denial is extremely expensive.
This is really what you are paying for when you hire a good expungement lawyer. The experience and legal knowledge to get your record sealed or expunged correctly and as fast as possible.
The DIY Expungement Book for Florida
All this information is great but it is not well connected. That is why I wrote a book for people who decide they want to try and do this on their own. The book is called “Erase Your Record: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Seal or Expunge Your Florida Criminal Record Without a Lawyer” (see below). It is written for people trying to seal or expunge their only arrest. The procedure not as easy as some websites say it is but my book includes bailout information along the way – in case you decide to go with a lawyer.
If you decide to represent yourself remember that there is no one that is allowed to give you legal advice except a lawyer. Don’t listen to court clerks – they do not know the law and steer people wrong all the time.
The Public Defender Cannot Represent You For An Expungement
You may have been represented by the public defender when you resolved your criminal case. However, in Florida the Public Defender’s office cannot assist in the sealing or expungement of criminal records. This has already been addressed by the Attorney General’s Office.
AGO 95-45, July 14, 1995: Public Defender can’t represent indigent re seal & expunge – Section 27.51, Florida Statutes, does not authorize a public defender to represent an indigent person for the purpose of a Motion to Expunge or Seal the indigent’s criminal records, regardless of whether the public defender may have previously been appointed to represent the individual.
Remember, not all lawyers practice in this area. If you want to hire an expungement lawyer, make sure they know what they are doing. If they first determine if you qualify – without having to pay them – that is a good sign.
Know if You Qualify Before You Begin
The first thing you need to do is determine if you qualify to have your criminal record expunged/sealed. There is no need to pay an expungement attorney if you do not qualify.
Another thing that needs to be determined is whether you qualify for a 1) sealing or 2) an expungement of the record. Distinguishing between the two at the beginning will also save you a lot of time.
Things People Don’t Think About
Most people don’t understand that there is an actual difference between expungement and sealing a record. Trying to get an expungement when you only qualify for a sealing usually results in frustration.
Obtaining Your Certificate of Eligibility
Once you get past F.D.L.E. you now have to petition the court for relief. Most non-lawyers who try this forget something or incorrectly file the documents. Objections and orders denying relief are often the cause of frustration and confusion.
FDLE Denies Your Application
If the Florida Department of Law Enforcement denies your request it will not explain in detail why you were denied and it does not advise you of how to correct your error (if it is an error).
Correcting Errors After the Fact
Many non-lawyers and some lawyers make mistakes when they expunge or seal a record. Once an order is signed granting a sealing or expungement your one time use of this benefit is gone. Trying to go back and correct it is more expensive and may be impossible.
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