The criminal defense practice of the Law Offices of Richard B. Barkin assists clients in expunging or sealing their criminal record, allowing clients to seek gainful employment and enjoy the same rights and privileges of their Florida neighbors in Broward and Palm Beach counties.
In Florida, criminal history records are public unless the record has been sealed or expunged. Criminal history information includes the fact of an arrest and its disposition. Even if you were acquitted at trial, or even if charges were dismissed and there never was a trial, you will still have a criminal history record on file with the state, obtainable by future employers and open for public inspection.
Having your record sealed or expunged is a way to deal with this legal disability. The process and criteria for obtaining either a seal or an expungement are basically the same. You must first obtain a certificate of eligibility from the Department of Florida Law Enforcement (DFLE). Obtaining this certificate further requires you to obtain a statement from the state attorney or prosecutor in the case and to attest that you meet the eligibility criteria. Once this certificate has been obtained and the proper fees have been paid, the court may in its discretion order the record sealed or expunged. Certificate denials may be reviewed by the DFLE or appealed to court.
If the record is expunged, it is physically destroyed or obliterated, except that the DFLE maintains one confidential copy. A sealed record is not destroyed but it is maintained confidentially and may only be accessed by the subject of the record, the subject's attorney, a criminal justice agency, or in a background check for purchase of firearms.
Expungement may be the preferable process, but it is not always available. Basically, expungement is proper when the charges have been dismissed and there has been no other guilty adjudication. If you have pled guilty or nolo contendere (no contest) to a charge but adjudication was withheld, you may seek to have the record sealed. In either case, if you have other prior convictions, prior guilty or nolo pleas, or prior sealed records or expungements, you may not be able to have the current record sealed or expunged. Also, certain offenses may never be expunged, such as most sex offenses, communications fraud or drug trafficking, or a host of "dangerous" crimes and felonies ranging from aggravated assault to terrorism.
The most important effect of having a record sealed or expunged is that it allows you to state on employment applications and in other situations that you have not been arrested or convicted of a crime. There are some exceptions, namely:
- When seeking employment with a criminal justice agency
- When a charged as a criminal defendant in another proceeding
- When applying to become a licensed attorney
- When seeking employment or contracting with the Department of Children and Family Services or Juvenile Justice
- When seeking employment in the education field
- When seeking employment with a Florida seaport
If your record has been sealed, the above-referenced agencies will be able to access it. If it has been expunged, they will find a notation stating that "Criminal information has been Expunged from this Record."
A separate process provides for agencies to expunge juvenile criminal records following completion of a Juvenile Diversion or teen court program. Once expunged, a juvenile record will not be available to the agencies described above as it is for other expungements or seals.
Obtaining an acquittal or dismissal of charges may be the primary goal when you are charged with a crime, but a lingering criminal record can continue to haunt your personal and professional life. If you are concerned that criminal history information may adversely affect you, contact the Law Offices of Richard B. Barkin to speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer about the possibility of having the record sealed or expunged.