What’s the Difference Between Sealing and Expunging?

The State of Florida offers those who have been charged with crimes two ways to remove those records from public access. The easiest is sealing the records. In this case, all information related to your arrest, the charges that were brought against you and information related to your subsequent trial, if there was one, are removed from public access. When sealing occurs, the documents still exist, but they can no longer be viewed by the public, and access to these documents by the general public (including employers) is impossible because a court ordered them sealed from public access.

There are, however, specific exceptions to this general rule, including:

  • If you are seeking employment with a criminal justice agency
  • If you are the subject of future criminal prosecution
  • If you are seeking to be licensed by the Florida Bar to practice law in the State of Florida
  • If you are seeking employment, to be licensed or contract with the Department of Children and Families, Agency for Health Care Administration, Agency for Persons with Disabilities, Department of Juvenile Justice
  • If you are seeking to be employed or licensed by the Department of Education, certain types of public schools, private schools or child care facilities
  • If you are seeking employment or access to one of Florida’s seaports
  • If you are seeking to purchase a firearm

Expunging is a more complex process that actually completely eliminates all documents related to your criminal record. In this case, limiting access means destroying all documents, which means that no one can ever read them or stumble upon them even by chance or accident.

Under Florida law, in the course of a person’s lifetime, a person is entitled to have only one criminal record sealed and/or expunged. There are no exceptions to this rule.

Sealing Criminal Records in Florida

Not everyone in Florida can have his/her criminal records sealed. You must qualify for such. Certain criminal offenses with which you were tried by the trial court may be sealed as long as the court withheld adjudication of guilt and the charge was one which is not prohibited from being sealed. If you are convicted of a misdemeanor or felony offense (“conviction” means a court adjudicated you guilty and did not “withhold adjudication” of guilt), you are not eligible in Florida to have your record sealed or expunged. In addition, to seal criminal records, you must not have been adjudicated guilty of another crime. In Florida, the courts can withhold adjudication of guilt indefinitely, giving you the opportunity to eventually keep the records from public view. You may also have your case sealed if you were found not guilty of an offense.

Expunging Criminal Records in Florida

You must qualify to have your court records expunged. If you were charged with a crime and the charges were dismissed or the state dropped the case, then you can have those records expunged. As it is with the sealing of criminal records, you must have never been adjudicated guilty in prior cases. In addition, you must never have been deemed delinquent in association with a case. The process of expungement may begin immediately after your case has been dismissed or dropped by the state. You may not immediately expunge a case in which you have been found not guilty. Instead, you must move to have the court records sealed.