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Expunging vs. Sealing Your Criminal Record


No one is perfect, and part of being human is making mistakes. However, some mistakes, especially those that result in a criminal conviction, can haunt a person for the rest of his/her life. Denial of employment, licensure, places to live, and access to one’s child are all possible repercussions of having a criminal record. However, depending on the circumstances that led to the criminal record and the crime involved, it may be possible to have the record expunged or sealed, which often gives these individuals a significant chance of rebuilding their lives once the criminal case is concluded. A discussion of the key differences between expunging versus sealing a criminal record, and what is needed to obtain both, will follow below.

Expungement vs. Sealing a Criminal Record

The main distinction between expunging and sealing a criminal record is expunging a record means it is physically deleted. Sealed records, on the other hand, still physically and legally exist, but are not available to the public or most employers. State and federal agencies would still have the right to view them. Both options allow the person to rightfully claim he/she was never arrested or refuse to acknowledge such questions for the specific case that was sealed or expunged. Note that Florida only allows one expungement or seal in a person’s lifetime, unless another charge was directly related to the expunged or sealed record. Despite this limitation, removing a record from public view makes it easier to navigate life after the criminal case, as the restrictions imposed by employers and landlords, for example, would not typically be present. However, it is important to note that private companies pay to obtain this type of information from States and counties, and the record will still be listed on the national criminal history database, which is available to State and federal authorities. This fact does not render expungements or sealings ineffective, but working with an experienced criminal attorney to obtain the best possible outcome will make it easier to explain why the criminal record is not relevant.

Qualifying for an Expungement or Seal of Criminal Records

Certain criteria must be met, first and foremost being there must not be an adjudication of guilt as an adult before a court will grant a request for either action. In addition, to qualify for an expungement or seal, the requesting individual must have a criminal record due to one of the following circumstances:

  • an inaccurate criminal/arrest record;
  • mistaken arrest;
  • dropped, dismissed, or never filed charges;
  • juvenile arrest records; or
  • a plea of guilty or no contest, and an adjudication of guilt was withheld.

Most people will fall into the last category, and Florida is rather unique in that a court or jury can find a person guilty of committing a crime but not necessarily be convicted for the offense. A withholding of an adjudication of guilt acts to allow the individual to escape the penalties associated with a conviction. This disposition is key, as any conviction for any offense automatically disqualifies someone from asking for an expungement or sealing of a record, even if the record referred to in a petition relates to an offense without a conviction. Finally, even if an adjudication of guilt is withheld, if the offense, including an attempt, falls into one of the following categories, sealing the record is prohibited:

  • most sex offenses;
  • drug trafficking;
  • child abuse;
  • Arson;
  • Assault;
  • murder; and
  • kidnapping, among other violent crimes.

Contact an Orlando Criminal Defense Lawyer

Do not let a criminal offense hang over your head if there is any chance to have it removed from the public record. The attorneys at the Orlando law firm Donna Hung Law Group want to help you get a fresh start, and are available to discuss your eligibility for an expungement or seal. Contact us at (407) 999-0099 for a consultation.