Will my arrest be on my record?

One of the most common questions a criminal defense attorney hears is, “Will this be on my record?”.  Much like most honest answers to legal questions, the truth is: “It depends”.  Specifically, it depends on the exact outcome of your case, whether you are eligible to seal or expunge your records, and exactly what you are referring to by the term “record”.

First, it is important to remember that criminal cases and all associated documents are normally a part of public record.  This means that anyone -employer, neighbor, ex-boyfriend- can potentially obtain information regarding your arrest through a simple Google search.

In Florida, the two most common methods for removing these kinds of criminal records from public view are through sealing and expunging criminal records.  Although these terms might often be used interchangeably, they are in fact quite different, and governed by separate laws (Court-Ordered Sealing is found in Fla. Stat. 943.059, Court-Ordered Expunction is found at Fla. Stat. 943.0585).  Generally, sealing refers to the process by which a criminal record may be exempted from public records laws, while expunction refers to the actual destruction and deletion of criminal history records. 

The question, however, remains:

Am I eligible to seal or expunge my record, and if so, how do I do that? 

A criminal conviction – where the Judge “adjudicates the defendant guilty” – will permanently be part of your criminal record.  An “adjudication of guilt” may not be sealed or expunged.  In some cases, the Judge or the prosecutor may agree to “withhold adjudication” as part of a plea agreement.  Under Florida law, a withhold of adjudication is not a conviction, and depending on the nature of the offense, may qualify you to have the arrest record sealed.  If the case was dropped (either by Nolle Prosse or No Information Notice), or dismissed, or if you were found Not Guilty at trial, you may qualify to have the arrest record expunged.

If you have not had your criminal history record sealed or expunged, it may be difficult to discern what information about your arrest is available to the public.  While one company may only be concerned about your answer on an application regarding whether you have been convicted of a felony, another company may be conducting a thorough, nationwide search of your entire criminal history.  An employer may even ask if you have received a withhold of adjudication, or if you completed a diversionary program.  It is also important to remember that certain Florida state agencies may be able to view your arrest history, regardless of your sealing/expunging status.  These agencies/entities are specifically identified in Fla. Stat. 943.059 and generally relate to admission to certain government employment positions, state bars, or licensing agencies.

If you are currently facing criminal charges, or have questions about your prior criminal record, it is important to consult an attorney experienced in criminal law.  This may help you to best understand the lasting impacts of your case and to structure the best possible outcome to protect your future.

Helpful Links

Florida State Statutes Regarding Expunction of Criminal Records:

https://www.flsenate.gov/Laws/Statutes/2016/943.0585

FDLE Information on Seal and Expunge Process:

http://www.fdle.state.fl.us/Seal-and-Expunge-Process/Seal-and-Expunge-Home