Sealing and Expunging Attorney in Lake Worth
Our Wellington criminal defense law firm receives daily requests to seal and expunge cases. This is an excellent move by potential clients who wish to move on from an unpleasant moment in the past, as sealing and expunging serve the function of removing a criminal record from public view. For many, sealing or expunging a case represents a fresh start, the ability to secure employment, and rebuilding a positive reputation in the community.
Before you endeavor to seal or expunge your case, however, it is critical to understand the process. Failure to learn about eligibility requirements, scope, and collateral effects associated with sealing and expunging can become costly in more ways than one.
Below is some basic information about Sealing and Expunging in Palm Beach County, Florida.
Why you should hire an attorney to seal or expunge your record?
When it comes to clearing your criminal record, you should not take any chances. Your career, reputation, and personal life are at stake. Hiring an experienced seal and expunge attorney can strengthen your application, prevent unnecessary delays, and improve your chances of sealing or expunging your record. An attorney can also save you time and give you peace of mind. For something as important as your future, legal representation is a wise investment.
How can attorney can help with the seal or expunge process?
A seal and expunge attorney knows the law regarding sealing and expunging and can help you navigate the process. Proficiency in seal-and-expunge law is important for:
- determining eligibility for sealing or expunction
- deciding which of the two processes is appropriate
- preparing the certificate of eligibility
- filing a petition to seal or expunge
Additionally, a great seal and expunge attorney has the practical experience that promotes smooth processing of your case at each stage. Seemingly inconsequential details such as preparation of a cover letter, selecting a fingerprinting location, placing documents in the proper order, and payment of government fees can mean the difference between an efficient process and procedural nightmare.
A seal and expunge lawyer is typically a criminal law attorney with particularized experience in sealing and expunging. With knowledge and experience by your side, your case will be complete, clear, strong, legally correct, and procedurally sound.
Seal vs Expunge: Definitions
Sealing and Expunction (also known as Expungement) are both actions that result in the removal of criminal records from public view. As described in detail below, both require a Certificate of Eligibility from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and a subsequent court order to take effect. However, the practical results of each process is slightly different.
Sealing a criminal record has the effect of hiding the criminal case from the public but not erasing it. When you seal your case, certain agencies and employers (government, healthcare, and other positions of public importance) can still see it. On the other hand, expungement erases your criminal record entirely as if it never happened.
Another important difference between the two actions: With sealing, you can almost always petition to unseal your case in the future; with expunction, there is no turning back; once your record is gone, it cannot be retrieved.
Eligibility for Sealing and Expunging
Contrary to popular belief, not every criminal case can be sealed or expunged. Some cases can only be sealed, not expunged; other cases can neither be sealed NOR expunged. Eligibility to seal or expunge rests on several factors, including the type of charge, the disposition of the case, and whether a person has previously sealed or expunged a case before.
As a general rule, you cannot seal or expunge a case if you were ever previously convicted of an offense (adjudicated guilty), whether or not the conviction was related to the case you are seeking to remove from public view. An adjudication withheld – meaning you pled guilty or were found guilty but did not receive a formal conviction – does not bar the process. However, if the case you wish to eliminate from public record resolved with an adjudication withheld rather than a Nolle Prosequi, No File, not guilty verdict, or dismissal, you are limited to only sealing your case; expunctions are reserved for cases that were entirely dropped.
You also cannot seal or expunge a case if you have previously sealed or expunged another case. With few exceptions such as automatic expunction, Florida law says that sealing or expunging is a one-time, one-case event. This means that you can only choose one case to seal or expunge in your lifetime.
Another potential deal-breaker for the process is if your case falls in the category of a disqualifying charge pursuant to Florida Statute Section 943.0584. For these charges (which include sex offenses, murder, manslaughter, aggravated assault, felony battery, burglary, robbery and other particularly violent allegations), a guilty plea, finding of guilt, or no contest plea automatically disqualifies an applicant from sealing or expunging. The only way to remove a record for these alleged offenses is to have the case completely dropped.
How to Seal or Expunge a Case in Florida: General Steps
Whether you seek to seal or expunge your case, you must go through a two-step process. The first step is to secure a Certificate of Eligibility from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), the state agency regulating law enforcement. In order to receive a Certificate of Eligibility, you must complete and sign the Application for Certificate of Eligibility, Form FDLE40-021. The form asks for basic information about the applicant (e.g. name, social security number, address, date of birth) and the case the applicant seeks to expunge (e.g. charges, date of arrest, arresting agency, charge description). If the application is for an expungement, the applicant must also have the State Attorney’s office (prosecuting agency) complete a Certified Written Statement that serves as confirmation that the case is eligible for expunction.
The Application for Certificate of Eligibility should be sent to FDLE together with: (1) the applicant’s fingerprints on an official fingerprint card completed by local law enforcement; (2) a certified disposition of the relevant criminal case obtained from the county clerk’s office; and (3) a check to cover the processing fee.
The processing time for the Application for Certificate of Eligibility is anywhere from 6 months to 1 year. The applicant must exercise patience during this time. Upon approval of the Application, the applicant should receive a Certificate of Eligibility from FDLE. At this point the applicant can finally file his or her petition to seal or expunge with the same court and same division that handled the underlying case.
Once a judge orders your case sealed or expunged, the court directs the clerk’s office to provide notice of the order to certain government agencies. These agencies, which include the State Attorney’s Office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and the arresting agency on your case, must follow the court order by removing your criminal record from public view.
As mentioned earlier, an order to seal will result in government agencies removing your record from public view. This means the public at large would not be able to find your case in the clerk system or any other public agency. An order to expunge goes a step further and requires government agencies to destroy any record of your criminal case.
Courts certainly have the power to order the government to take action; but what about private companies that collect arrest data and post it online? Unfortunately, the scope of a seal or expunge order does NOT protect the applicant from private entities that make a business out of exposing booking photos. These businesses – some legitimate and others not – charge a fee to remove your picture and information from their websites. The danger with the illegitimate companies is that they may extort you for money without actually removing your information.
There is not much you can do about private booking websites. Our best suggestion is to consult with an online marketing company to see if you can “bury” the negative online press.
Effects of Sealing and Expunging
Sealing and expunging has the intended effect of removing information from the public. This is almost always a plus. What could possibly be the downside to removing your criminal record from public databases?
Certain agencies require disclosure of your entire record, whether a matter was sealed or expunged, in order to proceed with a particular request. A specific example is United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) – or any other immigration agency, for that matter. Simply put, if you do not provide your entire criminal record to immigration authorities, your immigration case will almost certainly be denied. If you are not yet a United States citizen, consider waiting to seal or expunge your case until your immigration processes permanently conclude; otherwise, be sure to obtain and save certified copies of ALL COURT RECORDS related to your case prior to sealing or expunging.
Still have questions? Call us.
Our Wellington, Florida law firm focuses on criminal defense, sealing and expunctions. Attorney Lourdes Casanova is a former prosecutor for Palm Beach County with years of criminal law experience. If you have questions about sealing or expunging your case, call us for representation. Let us simplify the process and increase your chances of success.
Florida Seal and Expunge FAQs:
How much does it cost to seal a record in Florida?
As of this writing, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement charges a $75.00 processing fee for the Certificate of Eligibility. In addition to the payment to FDLE, seal and expunge applicants are required to pay a filing fee with the clerk of courts. Each judicial circuit and county clerk’s office may require a different fee; in Palm Beach County, the current filing fee is $42.00.
If you wish to hire a lawyer for your seal or expunge case, representation fees for this process normally range from $1000-$2000. However, most attorneys only provide specific price quotes on a case-by-case basis after evaluating the complexity of the case and any potential issues.
Do I need a lawyer to seal my record in Florida?
As the accused in a criminal case, you have the right to represent yourself in court, with law enforcement, and with FDLE. However, just because you can represent yourself does not mean you should. Taking on a legal matter on your own that carries lifelong consequences is a dangerous risk. In all other aspects of life – car trouble, health issues, plumbing, AC – you would strongly consider hiring a professional in the respective field to handle the matter properly. You should have the same outlook on clearing your criminal record. For something as valuable as sealing or expunging your case, it is best to retain an experienced attorney.
What crimes can be expunged in Florida?
In general, any crime can be expunged in Florida as long as the case was dropped and the accused meets all other administrative requirements (no prior seals or expunctions, no prior convictions on any case, no plea of guilty).
Eligibility for sealing is not as simple. There is a laundry list of disqualifying charges for those who may not have received a formal conviction, but still pled guilty to an offense.
The complete list of disqualifying offenses can be found in Florida Statute Section 943.0584.