When a potential client calls, wanting to seal or expunge his or her record, I ask the following questions:
- What were the charges?
- What was the outcome of the case?
- Were the charges dismissed?
- Were you convicted of the charges?
- Was adjudication withheld?
- Have you ever been convicted, in any state, of an offense?
Why are these questions important? Because the answers to these questions will determine your eligibility to have your record sealed or expunged. Fla. Stat. 943.059 and Fla. Stat. 943.0585 discuss disqualifying charges, some of which include domestic violence offenses, DUI, sex offenses, drug trafficking offenses, and fraud.
Dismissal vs. Adjudication Withheld vs. Conviction
Once we determine that the charges you want to seal or expunge are not disqualified, we discuss the outcome of the charges. How the case was decided makes a difference in determining whether you may seal or expunge. For example, if the charges were dismissed or dropped, then you may qualify for expunction; if the charges were pursued, but adjudication was withheld (meaning, there was no finding or adjudication of guilt by the court), then you would likely qualify for sealing. If, however, the court adjudicated you guilty of the offense—meaning, you were convicted of the charges—then you do not (and will not, in the future) qualify for either sealing or expunction. It is important to understand the difference between a conviction and a withhold of adjudication, as this is a pivotal point in determining your qualification for sealing your criminal record.
Out-of-State Charges and Their Effect on Your Request
If you have prior charges outside the state of Florida, they may or may not impact your ability to have your charges sealed or expunged in Florida. Typically, in Florida, you can only have your charges sealed or expunged one time. However, if you faced criminal charges in another state, and those charges were expunged in that state, the out-of-state expunction will not disqualify you from having your Florida charges expunged. Conversely, if you were convicted of those out-of-state charges, you will be disqualified because any prior criminal conviction will prevent you from sealing or expunging your criminal record.
Here are some examples:
One of my clients was charged with Racing on a Highway in Florida, and adjudication was withheld. He was also arrested five years ago in Georgia, and those charges were expunged. My client wanted to seal the Racing on a Highway charge. Even though he had a prior expunction on his record, my client qualified for sealing in Florida because the expunction occurred in the State of Georgia.
Now, for the sake of illustration, let’s change the facts of my client’s scenario. Instead of his Georgia charges being expunged, what would have happened if he was convicted of those charges? He would not have been permitted to seal his Florida charges because of the prior conviction on his record. As you can see, an adjudication of guilt can have a significant impact on whether you can seal or expunge your record.