faq

Frequently asked questions about the sealing and expungement process in Florida

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What is my first step?

The first step is to contact our office for a free review to determine if you are eligible.  Please verify the final disposition of your case prior to contacting us, as we need that to determine your eligibility.  Once it is determined you are eligible, we will send you a retainer agreement for you to sign and return to us with the fee.   The law office will handle every step of the process for you.  We fill out all the paper work and send you detailed instructions for everything that needs to be done.  All you have to do is sign several documents in front of a notary public, and get your finger prints taken at your local Sheriff's office.  Once you hire us, we handle the rest!  In the event a hearing is required, you can represent yourself or have us appear on your behalf, it is up to you.

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What is the difference between sealing and expungement?

Sealing means a criminal arrest record is closed to public inquires, and its existence is allowed to be divulged only in limited circumstances (see the page on sealing). Sealing is available for most charges that received a withhold of adjudication or where a defendant was found not guilty at trial. Click here to see which charges can’t be sealed if they resulted in a withhold of adjudication. Expungement means the criminal history record is physically destroyed, and can't be accessed.  The FDLE and the clerk of court still retain a copy of the expunged record, but it is inaccessible to the public.  However, an individual who has a criminal record expunged must still reveal that record in certain circumstances (see the page on expungement).  Expungement is not available if a charge resulted in a withhold of adjudication or where a trial took place, even if the defendant was found not guilty.

In some instances, such as when applying to the Florida Bar, an individual may be asked to unseal a record so the Bar can review the record.  In this case, an expungement would be better, since a file can’t be “un-expunged” once it is destroyed.  However, the applicant would need to reveal the details of the incident in both circumstances (sealed or expunged). If you are contemplating applying to one of the entities who is entitled to be notified of a sealed record, it may be best to wait until after you apply to seal the record so there is no risk you will be asked to unseal it.

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How much does expungement in FL cost?

The total cost for either the sealing or expungement of a Florida criminal record is $895

For details on the fee structure click here

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Who will be able to see my record after it is sealed or expunged?

Only in certain instances will your sealed or expunged record be revealed, or will you be required to acknowledge the arrest occurred. Please see the sealing and expungement pages for a detailed list of when a sealed or expunged record will be visible or need to be revealed.

NOTE: Due to the proliferation of third party "background" check companies, we have had numerous clients find their record listed online through a non-governmental sponsored website after having had their record sealed or expunged.  Because these third party companies are often unscrupulous, they try their best to avoid giving any type of physical address or phone to contact them though where you can send a copy of the court order and inform they are breaking the law if they do not comply with it.  This can cause a problem when it comes to ensuring that your record has been removed from all sources, not just the government/public records.  We help all our clients as best as possible to ensure third party compliance with the sealing and expungement process.

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How long will it take to seal or expunge my record?

The entire process should take about 6-8 months, but there is no set time frame. We try our hardest to complete your case as soon as possible, but the majority of the time delay is the result of the backlog at the FDLE and in the court system. Currently, the FDLE is about 5-6 months behind schedule. Expungement can take 3-6 weeks longer, because the State Attorney must first sign the application for the certificate of eligibility before it is submitted to the FDLE. Beware of any company or firm that tells you it can be completed any sooner, because every applicant must apply to the FDLE, the process will take the same length for everyone.

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I have multiple arrests on my record, can I seal and expunge all of them?

Probably not. Florida law only allows an individual the opportunity to seal or expunge a single criminal incident. So for example: Daryl was arrested once in 2004 for possession of marijuana to which he pled no contest to and received a withold of adjudication. Daryl was subsequently arrested in 2008 for petty theft to which he pled guilty to and for which he was adjudicated guilty. Neither arrest could be sealed or expunged because Daryl was adjudicated guilty of the 2008 charge. If however, Daryl received a withold of adjudication on the 2008 charge, he could apply to have either charge sealed, but not both. If instead the 2008 charge was dropped altogether, then he could apply to either have the 2008 charge expunged, or the 2004 charge sealed, but not both.

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What if I was arrested by mistake?

Florida statute 943.0581 allows for an individual who was arrested by mistake (mistaken identity or contrary to law) may apply to have any non-judicial records of an arrest expunged. This would not count as the applicant's one time sealing or expungement under Florida law. However, this process requires the approval of the chief of the law enforcement agency, sheriff, or department head of the state law enforcement agency to review the record and sign an affidavit admitting the arrest was a mistake or was contrary to law, which can be difficult to obtain.

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When must a sealed or expunged record be divulged?

Despite being hidden from the public, meaning it will not be shown on any background checks, the FDLE will reveal the existence of a sealed record to certain parties if an individual is applying to them for employment or a professional license. To see the list of agencies/parties click here.

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When can you deny the existence of your criminal record?

An individual who has had a criminal record sealed may deny the existence of that record, except in the certain circumstances. For more details click here.

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What can be the effect of a withhold of adjudication?

If an individual receives a withhold of adjudication on any of the charges listed here, they will not be able to have those charges sealed. However, If the charges were dropped, dismissed, or they were found not guilty, the arrest/charges may still be expunged.

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How do I know my arrest(s)/charge(s) have been sealed or expunged?

It usually takes 6-8 weeks after the judge hearing your petition signs the order to seal or expunge to be sent to all the necessary parties such as the FDLE and the arresting agency.  However, it is recommended you run a background check on yourself 2-3 months after the you receive a certified copy of the order, so as to verify the order was properly forwarded by the clerk's office.

NOTE: Due to the proliferation of third party "background" check companies, we have had numerous clients find their record listed online through a non-governmental sponsored website after having had their record sealed or expunged.  Because these third party companies are often unscrupulous, they try their best to avoid giving any type of physical address or phone to contact them though where you can send a copy of the court order and inform they are breaking the law if they do not comply with it.  This can cause a problem when it comes to ensuring that your record has been removed from all sources, not just the government/public records.  We help all our clients as best as possible to ensure third party compliance with the sealing and expungement process.

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How many charges can I seal or expunge?

Only charges stemming from one arrest or criminal incident may be sealed or expunged. Multiple charges or arrests stemming from a single arrest/incident may be sealed or expunged if the court orders it. For example, if an individual was arrested and charged with burglary, and was later arrested and charged with theft based on the same incident, both arrests could be sealed or expunged as long as all other requirements are met.

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How do I know what I was charged with and what the outcome was?

The easiest way is to consult the final order issued by the court or state attorney's office in your case. An order of no bill, nolle prosse, dismissal or a final verdict is good examples of final orders. You can get a certified copy of these orders at the criminal records division of the clerk of courts in the county where the arrest took place. You can also run a back ground check on yourself through the Florida Department of Law Enforcement on their website to determine your exact criminal history record.

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Am I guaranteed the right to a sealing or expungement?

No! Even if the Florida Department of Law Enforcement issues a certificate of eligibility in regards to the sealing or expungement of your Florida criminal history record, you may still be denied a sealing or expungement of your record. The procedure of sealing or expunging your record is left at the total discretion of the court. However, we do offer a money back guarantee.

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Can I seal or expunge a charge of Driving under the Influence - DUI?

Yes. However, Florida statute 316.656 prohibits a withhold of adjudication on DUI charges occurring after 2005 in certain instances, so it is important to verify the outcome of your case. Further, as stated in the case of Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles v. Rigau, 901 So. 2d 339 (Fla. 2nd DCA 2005), certain records, such as a record of the mandatory suspension of a driver's license for those charged with DUI are not criminal in nature, and thus are not within the courts discretion to seal or expunge under chapter 943 of the Florida statutes. So although the criminal records pertaining to a DUI would be sealed or expunged, the DHSMV records would not, absent a separate court order to do so.

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Will I be required to appear in court?

In most cases, you will not be required to appear in court for a hearing on the sealing or expungement of your Florida criminal arrest record. However, in the event a hearing is required, I highly recommend you attend the hearing with me to show the court how important it is to you that you be granted a sealing or expungement. If a court appearance is required and you would like us to represent you, a $250.00 appearance fee is charged, plus mileage of $.45 per mile for certain counties. A client is always welcome to represent themselves at a hearing, and we are happy to provide easy to follow instructions on how to do so.

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What if I was a Juvenile when I was arrested?

Most juvenile records are automatically expunged after a certain period of time. Additionally, Florida law provides that an arrest that occurred while an individual was a juvenile may be eligible to apply for a Juvenile Diversion Expunction. Please see the page on juvenile records for more detailed information regarding the sealing or expungement of juvenile records.

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What if I was convicted or pled guilty to a charge, is there anything that can be done?

Unfortunately, if an individual is found guilty of or has pled guilty to any charge (without receiving a withhold of adjudication) anywhere in the United States, they are ineligible to petition the Florida courts to seal or expunge any charge(s). (Even charges that did not result in an adjudication of guilt.)

It may be possible to try and vacate a conviction under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850. However, in most circumstances, action must be taken within 2 years of conviction, and the plea to the charge must have been entered involuntarily, which is a rare occurrence.  We are happy to review the possibility of vacating your sentence free of charge.

An individual may be able to apply to the Florida Board of Executive Clemency for a pardon or restoration of civil rights for a conviction that occurred in Florida. This will not result in the expungement or sealing of that individual's arrest or conviction, however.

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Will I need to travel to your office to seal or expunge my arrest?

Although we welcome any client who would like to meet in person at our office in Lakeland, we handle the vast majority of our clients' cases over the phone, through email, fax and traditional mail.  We mail all the necessary paperwork directly to you for your convenience, so there is no need to ever come to our office if you don't want to.

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Can I apply for a concealed weapons permit once my record is sealed or expunged?

Most likely, yes.  Florida Statute 790.06 denies issuance of a concealed weapons permit to anyone who has had adjudication withheld on any felony or misdemeanor charge of domestic violence until three years have passed or they have been sealed or expunged.   Although charges of domestic violence that result in adjudication being withheld can’t be sealed or expunged, many felonies can be sealed.  Thus, if you have had adjudication withheld on a felony, you should still be able to obtain a concealed weapons permit from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services once the charge is sealed.  For a good article on the Florida and Federal legal issues surrounding concealed weapons permits, particularly for those charged with a domestic violence offence, read this article by Judge Amy Karan and Helen Stampalia as well as this memo by the Department of Justice legal department.

 

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Note: if adjudication was withheld on a guilty plea, you may still qualify to have that charge or another charge sealed.