Florida's laws on expunging and sealing criminal records are very limited. But, if you qualify, sealing or expunging a record can help remove barriers to employment, housing, and more. Read on to learn more about expungement and sealing options in Florida.
In Florida, you may qualify to have your criminal record sealed or expunged under some circumstances. The legal terms—"expunge" and "seal"—have different meanings.
Sealing. If your record is sealed, the public (including private employers) cannot view it, but most government agencies will still have access to it.
Expunging. If your criminal record is expunged, not even a government agency can see it without a court order. (Florida law also uses the term "expunction.")
If your records are sealed or expunged, you are not required, in many cases, to disclose the arrest. Situations where you will need to disclose the record include when applying for a job in sensitive positions, such as with a criminal justice agency, a school, or an agency that serves vulnerable populations. Other situations require disclosure as well. Both sealed and expunged records can be used in future criminal prosecutions.
(Fla. Stat. §§ 943.0585, 943.059 (2022).)
To be eligible for expungement or sealing, a person cannot:
A person can only seek one expungement or sealing order for one adult criminal proceeding in a lifetime, unless the person seeks to expunge a record that's been sealed for 10 years.
An eligible person can ask the court to seal or expunge their criminal history records under the following circumstances.
Your criminal record may be sealed if:
Florida law makes certain "convictions" ineligible for sealing, including violent offenses, sex offenses, drug trafficking and manufacturing offenses, and certain obscenity offenses, among many others. The list of ineligible offenses can be found in section 943.0584 (and is available on Florida's Department of Law Enforcement website). Convictions include any determination of guilty at trial or based on a plea of not guilty or no contest (even if adjudication was withheld).
Your criminal record may be expunged if:
To file for expungement or sealing, you must first obtain a certificate of eligibility from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). You can find the application on the FDLE's website. The certificate only verifies that the record is an eligible offense under state law; it does not guarantee that a judge will grant the expungement or sealing request.
After receiving the certificate of eligibility, a person must submit the certification and file a petition with the court, plus serve these documents with the state attorney and arresting law enforcement agency. The court will then decide whether to grant or deny the petition.
Outside of the processes outlined above, Florida law creates a few other avenues for expunging records.
Florida allows expungement through an administrative process if you were subject to an unlawful or mistaken arrest. This process goes through the arresting agency and applies to nonjudicial records. (Fla. Stat. § 943.0581 (2022).)
Victims of human trafficking who've been arrested for or convicted of a prostitution or obscenity offense may petition to have their criminal record expunged. The petitioner must attest (swear) to their eligibility for expunction and provide any available official documentation showing their status as a trafficking victim. (Fla. Stat. § 943.0583 (2022).)
A person who succeeds in a lawful self-defense claim can seek expungement for the underlying charges and related records. A state attorney must provide a certified statement that the prosecutor never filed the charges or the prosecutor or the court dismissed the charges based on the person acting in lawful self-defense. (Fla. Stat. § 943.0578 (2022).)
Juveniles who successfully complete a pretrial diversion program may apply to the FDLE for the expunction of non-judicial records relating to their arrest. This option doesn't apply if the juvenile was arrested for a forcible felony or felony involving a firearm or weapon. And it only applies to first-time charges. (Fla. Stat. § 943.0582 (2022).)
Florida law automatically expunges juvenile records when the person turns 21 or 26, depending on the circumstances of the case. For records retained until age 26, a juvenile can apply for early expungement upon turning 18 if they've been crime free for five years. (Fla. Stat. § 943.0515 (2022).)
The rules for cleaning up a criminal record in Florida are very complicated. To learn more about expunging criminal records in Florida—and to discuss your personal circumstances—you should contact a qualified criminal law attorney. A good lawyer can guide you each step of the way.