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Moving On with Your Life: Record Sealing or Expungement and Restoration of Civil Rights

Your case is over, your sentence has been served, your probation is terminated. Now what? Will you be haunted forever by the mistakes you have made? The simple answer is, no.

Sealing or Expungement of Criminal History

Sections 943.059 and 943.0585, Fla. Stat., permit courts to seal or expunge criminal records, in certain circumstances. Once a record is sealed or expunged by the court, it is confidential, and available only to you, your attorney, criminal justice agencies, and judges. If your record is sealed or expunged, it will not show up on a background check, and you can lawfully deny or fail to acknowledge your sealed or expunged criminal record, except in certain enumerated circumstances. Sealing or expunging your record is extremely important in today’s competitive job market.

You are entitled to have one criminal case sealed or expunged in your lifetime. Furthermore, you are only eligible to seal or expunge your record, if you have never been adjudicated guilty of any criminal offense, or adjudicated delinquent (as a minor) of any offense specified in Section 943.051(3)(b), Fla. Stat. If you pled guilty to or were found guilty of certain enumerated crimes they are not eligible to be sealed or expunged, even if there was a withhold of adjudication. Those crimes include: arson, aggravated assault, aggravated battery, illegal use of explosives, child abuse, abuse of an elderly person or disabled adult, aircraft piracy, kidnapping, homicide, manslaughter, sexual battery, robbery, carjacking, lewd, lascivious, or indecent assault or act upon or in the presence of a child under the age of 16 years, sexual activity with a child, who is 12 years of age or older but less than 18 years of age, by or at solicitation of a person in familial or custodial authority, burglary of a dwelling, stalking, acts of domestic violence, acts of terrorism, and manufacturing any substances in violation of chapter 893.

The process to seal or expunge your record can begin when your case is closed, and your sentence has been completed. You must first have your fingerprints taken by an authorized law enforcement agency. You must then file an application with FDLE, with the fingerprints attached, so that a background search can be completed. If your application is approved by FDLE, they will issue a Certificate of Eligibility. The next step is to submit a Petition for Sealing or Expungement to the court (where your case was originally heard), and attach the Certificate of Eligibility from FDLE.
The court will set a hearing on your Petition. If the State Attorney’s Office objects to the sealing or expungement, the court will hear arguments from both sides, and determine whether or not to grant the Petition to Seal or Expunge. If the State Attorney’s Office consents to the Petition, or if the court grants the Petition, after hearing argument, it will issue an Order to seal or expunge your record, which will be provided to the appropriate law enforcement agencies. At that point, your record is officially sealed or expunged, and no longer public record.

Of course, an attorney can guide you through all of these steps, and help insure your efforts will be successful.

Restoration of Civil Rights in Florida

When a person is convicted of a felony in Florida, he or she loses the right to vote, sit on a jury, hold public office, and possess a firearm. If you have been convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor, you are not entitled to have your record sealed or expunged, but you might be eligible to have your civil rights restored. There are rules for this procedure, and the power to grant clemency is vested in the Governor, with the agreement of two cabinet members, who are also statewide elected officials.

Rule 10 of the Florida Rules of Executive Clemency provides for the Restoration of Civil Rights in Florida. If an application to restore civil rights is granted, it restores to an applicant all of the rights of citizenship in the State of Florida enjoyed before the felony conviction, except the specific authority to own, possess, or use firearms. However, it does not relieve an applicant from the registration and notification requirements, or any other obligations and restrictions imposed by law, upon sexual predators or sexual offenders.

The application to restore civil rights in Florida can be initiated five or seven years after the sentence is completed, depending on the crime. The process begins with the filing of an Application for Clemency. Certified copies of the charging indictment or information and the judgment and sentence for each felony conviction must be attached to the Application. Each Application may also include character references, letters of support, and other relevant documents.

Every Application which meets the requirements of the Clemency Rules may be referred to the Florida Commission on Offender Review, for an investigation, report, and recommendation. Some cases may also require a hearing. After completion of the investigation, a report and recommendation is made to the Governor. If the Petition is granted, your rights to vote, sit on a jury, and hold office are restored.

Fallgatter Catlin & Varon, P.A. has experience in helping clients seal or expunge their records and restore their civil rights. Contact us today for help with your Petition to Seal or Expunge, or your Application for Clemency.