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  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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