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Can I clear my criminal record in Florida?

If you've ever been arrested, you now have a criminal record. Even if the charges against you were subsequently dropped, or even if you were found not guilty in court, the offense remains in your public history. Anyone who does a background check on you can discover the offense--sometimes just by conducting a simple Google search.

However, if the offense occurred in the state of Florida, you may have the opportunity to clear the offense from your record--either by sealing or expunging it.

What's the difference?

If you have your record sealed, it still exists, but it will not show up in a standard background check. The only way a lay person can access your record is with a court order. With expungement, your record is deleted from history. It's as though the offense never occurred. If you're applying for a job and the potential employer asks you whether you have a criminal record, you're legally allowed to answer "no" if your offense has been expunged.

How do I clear my record?

The first step to sealing or expunging your record is to apply for a certificate of eligibility though the Florida Department of Law Enforcement:

  • Fill out the application: You fill out section A, witnessed by a Notary Public or Deputy Clark of the Court. For expungement, your prosecutor will need to fill out section B.
  • Get fingerprinted through an official law enforcement or criminal justice agency.
  • Provide a certified disposition of the case in question, if available. Go to the Clerk of Court in the county where you were charged to obtain this.
  • Pay the $75 processing fee.

If you receive the certificate of eligibility, then you file a petition--together with the certificate--in the court jurisdiction of your original charge.

Which crimes cannot be cleared?

Under Florida law, you can only clear certain criminal offenses from your record. It the crime is more severe (e.g., murder, sexual assault), it will generally not be eligible for sealing or expungement. Typically, crimes that may not be cleared fall under any of the below categories:

  • Violent crimes
  • Sexual crimes
  • Crimes against children
  • Crimes against the elderly
  • Drug trafficking
  • Conspiring or attempting to commit any of the above crimes

It's important to know that a stupid mistake you made when you were young doesn't have to haunt you forever. You may have the opportunity to wipe the slate clean--but it takes some effort on your part. The result, however, makes the effort worthwhile.

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