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3 Important Distinctions Between Sealing and Expunging Your Criminal Record

Clients frequently ask me to explain the process and effects of sealing and expunging a criminal record: What does it mean to seal or expunge their record? Which would they qualify for? Will it affect their ability to purchase a firearm?  While the two processes are similar, there are also some significant distinctions between sealing and expunging processes that should be understood.

  1. The outcome of the charges matters.

If you have been convicted of an offense, meaning the court issued an adjudication of guilt, then you do not qualify to have your record sealed or expunged. A conviction on your record, no matter how old, will disqualify you.

You may qualify to have your record sealed if you meet ALL of the following criteria:

  • The charges are not disqualified under Stat. 943.059
  • Adjudication was withheld (the court did not find you guilty)
  • You have no prior criminal convictions

In order to qualify to have your record expunged, you must meet ALL of the following criteria:

  • The charges are not disqualified under Stat. 943.0585
  • The charges were dropped/dismissed
  • You have no prior criminal convictions

In addition, if you are successful in having your record sealed, and it has been sealed for at least ten (10) years, then pursuant to 943.0585(2)(h), you may qualify to have the previously sealed charges expunged.

  1. Unlike an expunged record, a sealed record may still be accessible by certain agencies.

Expunging your record essentially erases the charges; as such, when a criminal background check is conducted, it will not show the expunged charges. On the other hand, a sealed record will not be visible to the general public, but will be accessible to certain agencies, including:

  • Law enforcement
  • The Florida Bar
  • Florida Department of Education
  • Agency for Healthcare Administration
  • Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS)
  1. Sealed charges may still affect your privilege to purchase firearms.

When you purchase a firearm, a criminal background check is conducted by the Florida Division of Law Enforcement (FDLE). If your record is expunged, FDLE will not be able to view your record when a criminal background check is run; however, if it is sealed, FDLE will have the ability to view the charges on that record. If the charges that were sealed fall on the list of prohibited charges preventing you from purchasing a firearm, you will be denied the right to purchase firearms in Florida.