You probably learned about the “presumption of innocence” in high school civics. The United States and Florida State constitutions guarantee persons accused of crimes the right to “due process of law”. This has been interpreted to mean that the fact of an arrest is not by itself considered proof of guilt. The accused is presumed by the law to be innocent unless and until the prosecution proves otherwise, usually beyond a reasonable doubt.
Unfortunately, this fundamental constitutional guarantee can’t always prevent an arrest from adversely affecting your life, even if the charges are dismissed or dropped. Most records of adult arrests are considered to be public, available for inspection by anyone. Depending upon the nature and seriousness of the crime with which you were charged, an arrest record – even without a conviction – may jeopardize your ability to:
- Get or keep a job
- Rent an apartment
- Obtain admission to some schools
- Qualify for certain professional licenses or certifications
- Qualify for credit
Like most states, Florida has no requirement that record of the arrest of an adult that did not result in a conviction or guilty plea be automatically purged or sealed (juvenile arrest records are treated differently). Fortunately, it does have a process through which you may be able to have your arrest record “expunged” (destroyed) or “sealed” (protected from public inspection).
When an arrest is removed from your criminal record, it should no longer appear in a background check by a prospective employer or landlord, though you may still need to disclose the arrest in some cases, such as if you apply for employment with a Florida law enforcement agency or seek admission to the Florida bar.
Basic Requirements for Expungement
Once the charges against you have been dismissed or dropped, you can consider filing a request for expungement or sealing of your arrest record. You and your case must satisfy certain requirements:
- First, with one limited exception discussed below, expungement or sealing applies only to arrest records. In general, if as an adult you pled guilty or were convicted, your record cannot be expunged or sealed.
- Second, any prior criminal charges must also have been dropped or dismissed.
- Third, you may not have had a record sealed or expunged before.
- Finally, you must not be under any form of court supervision, such as probation.
As noted above, there is one situation in which a conviction can be expunged. If the court will accepted a guilty plea, but “withheld adjudication” (usually, there will be a probationary period and other conditions) and the defendant satisfies these conditions, the record of his or her arrest can in some cases be sealed.
After you petition for expungement is filed, it usually takes about 4-6 months for your arrest to be erased from your record if the State of Florida grants your request.
Can I Do This Myself?
It is possible, yes. However, Florida’s expungement process is complex, and an error in your application can cause it to be rejected. We at Orner Law, LLC, handled hundreds of expungement applications. We can help you successfully navigate the process the first time. If you are considering applying for expungement or sealing of your arrest records, we recommend you speak with one of our experienced attorneys. We will determine whether you meet the statutory requirements and, if so, help you with the paperwork and ensure that your expungement petition is completed successfully.
With offices in Boca Raton and Fort Lauderdale, Orner Law, LLC serves clients throughout South Florida.
Contact a South Florida grandparents’ rights lawyer for an initial consultation.