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What is an Expungement in Florida?
What an expungement does for you is it allows you to legally deny having ever been arrested or charged with the crime. This right is very powerful for you for many reasons. It can be used in order to put your past behind you, and get that second chance you need. What an expungement is not is a one hundred percent foolproof way of preventing everyone in society from seeing your record, and you need to understand that. So, you will be able to lawfully deny the criminal charge for a lot of different jobs. Your neighbors the public, and your relatives may not necessarily find it.
However in the age of the Internet you need to realize that a lot of people do not have to honor a judge’s ruling on the expungement as there are third party companies that are not covered under the Florida Statute. For instance, your name and booking photos could be plastered all over the net. Websites pop up that make money off the mug shots. A judge’s expungement order may not remove that record for that photo or information. However, some of the companies will take your photo down when a lawyer has sent an order to them.
The good news is the Clerk, the police, the State Attorney’s Office, the arresting agency that arrested you, the county sheriff and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) are required by law to destroy the record. Expunging your record is a critical process – not only putting your past behind you physically, but mentally, so you are free from baggage that an arrest left you. We will now go on to discuss some of first steps of this entire process.
Beginning the Expungement Process
The first step in the expungement process is gathering documents and information. When you want to expunge a crime you were charged with, the most important thing you need to realize is that the State Attorney’s Office has to file a nolle prosequi , which is a fancy term for the charge being dropped or dismissed.
The state can also file a No Information Notice which simply states that the State decided not to file charges in the first place. If, and only if you had that charge dropped, dismissed, or not filed on, will you be potentially eligible to expunge your record.
Documents You Will Need
Disposition: You will need the disposition which contains details of what the results were with your case. In order to get that info, you will have to go down to the clerk of court, look through the archives, either on the computer, or ask the clerk to give you a certified disposition of your charge and the arrest affidavit.
Affidavit: You will need the arrest affidavit and a certified disposition because you will need to know the date you were arrested, the agency that arrested you, and the ultimate disposition of those charges.
When you go down to the clerk, expect to have to wait in order to get these documents. If your case is too old, the clerk may have purged your record from their system. In that case, there are other documents you will get, and you may not be able to get the certified disposition and arrest affidavit. It is very important that you get one certified disposition. If you do not get them certified, and you try to apply for the certificate of eligibility later on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement will not grant it to you.
The Expungement Packet
Next step of the process is getting that expungement packet. Where do you get that? You can get that at the local clerk of courts, or by going on FDLE.com. You should expect to wait for the package, and in a lot of the time the clerk’s office won’t have them in stock, so you will have to either continue to go down there to get one, or call ahead to make sure they have one available.
The expungement packet will include a number of documents and information for you to fill out.
Usually the expungement packet includes:
- The Expungement Statute
- A Fingerprint Card
- Instruction Sheet
- Sworn Affidavit
- Expungement Application
The entire application and corresponding documents will need to be submitted to both the State attorney’s office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
The next step of the process is filling out the application to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Once you receive your application it will require you to fill out the following:
- Full Name
- Maiden Name (If Applicable)
- Divorced Name (If Applicable)
- Business Phone
- Date of birth
- Social Security Number
- Permanent Address
- Arresting Agency
- Date of Arrest
- Driver’s License Number
All of this information is extremely important, and if you do not fill out any part of it, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement will not issue the certificate which will allow you the ability to try to petition the judge to expunge your record or it may delay the process.
Remember to make sure that the arresting agency’s date of arrest is correct, by looking at your charging affidavit. If you cannot get that result, and you take a guess, or you base the information upon the clerk’s computer, you might be making a mistake and FDLE will not grant you the certificate.
The application also requires you to list your charges. It is going to ask you to swear under oath that the charges are correct, and to the best of your knowledge. It is important that you make sure that you put down all of the charges, and that you check off on the expunge part, not the seal part. This is especially true if you are looking to expunge a dropped or dismissed record.
Sending the Expungement Application
After you fill out the application, you will next have to send the application to the State Attorney’s Office for a section the prosecutor has to fill out. This can be a difficult as you must make sure you get the application to the correct State Attorney’s Office. You should call the State Attorney’s Office, identify yourself, ask to speak to the expungement clerk, and make sure that they give you the correct address and the correct office to send your application to
Once a State Attorney gets this document, they will review the record, see if your charge is dropped, and then sign off on it. They will identify that yes, in fact, your charge was dropped, dismissed, or never filed upon. Prepare to be patient, but realize that if it does not happen in 30 days, you can call over to the State Attorney’s Office, and try to get in touch with them. It is not likely that you will ever speak to the prosecutor themselves, because prosecutors do not want to talk to unrepresented people. But you should be able to get the assistant.
While your application to the State Attorney’s Office is in the mail, the next step in the application process is to go down to a local police agency for fingerprints. Take the fingerprint card with you, pay between $5 and $20, and get yourself fingerprinted.
Before you go to the police station, realize that not all police stations do fingerprinting, and sometimes they have inconvenient times to do it. You can have your finger prints taken before or after you fill out the application but make sure you have the fingerprints done before you get the completed application back from the State Attorney’s Office.
The Certificate of Eligibility For Expungement
The next step of the process, when you get the application back from the State attorney’s office, is to get that certificate of eligibility from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. What you need to do is take the application and the fingerprint card and write a letter to FDLE’s location in Tallahassee to give them that information along with the certified disposition.
So, you’re going to need these three things:
- Fingerprint Card
- Certified Disposition/li>
If you’re missing any one of those three things, then you’re not going to get this certificate. The other thing you’re going to need to do is put a certified check or a money order in the mail for $75, made out to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Expungement Approval Process
Once the State attorney and the law enforcement agencies get that petition, they will look at it to see if they feel that they have a position on the petition. They’ll either take a no position, or they’ll agree that it should be expunged, which is not very likely, or they’ll object.
How long does that take?
Once everything is sent to the FDLE be prepared to wait. There may be hundreds or thousands of applications before you and it could take anywhere from three to seven months to get that application in and approved by FDLE so that they issue a certificate of eligibility. Remember, without that Certificate of Eligibility you cannot even ask the judge to expunge your record.
If you’re doing it yourself, you have to realize that you’re unrepresented, so the State attorney can’t call you or send you an e-mail giving their response. More than likely what will happen is that you’ll get the response from the State attorney’s office, and sometimes a law enforcement agency, stating what their position will be.
If they object to it, you know that you may very well be in for a fight, because most judges are not always going to grant an objection. They may set your matter for a hearing in front of the judge. If you get that, don’t panic.
If you’re unrepresented you may get a little nervous, but do realize that the judge is probably not outright denying it. The judge will want to talk to you and you’re going to need to prepare for that hearing.
Preparing for Court
It’s extremely important that you have a dry run before you testify in front of the judge. If you’re doing it on your own, that’s OK. Talk in front of a mirror, talk in front of your friends. Get out what you’re going to want to say, because you need to be polished, smooth, and most importantly, honest and genuine.
You need to show up well dressed, usually in a suit and tie, with a resume that can testify to your character, an employer who can testify your work history, a priest, a teacher, anyone that can tell this judge that you’re worthy of getting it expunged. And be prepared for tough questions by the judge as he or she may ask about the charge.
The judge may ask why you think it’s necessary to get this expunged or they may challenge you about some other unlawful behavior that you may have committed but were not convicted of. Remember, if you were convicted of any charge, you would not have gotten that certificate of eligibility. Sometimes, a prosecutor will object, and once you find the basis for the objection, you can bring up other information to the prosecutor and withdraw the objection, which gives you a better chance of getting that record expunged.
Expungement Waiting Process
The waiting process, assuming there is no hearing, can be 30 to 90 days.
It is hard to say “be patient” during that time, because of the importance of the expungement either being granted or denied, but that’s really all you can do in that situation. Use this time to get other things in order and prepare yourself for a scenario in which the expungement goes through or not. If you are working with a lawyer to do your expungement, you may follow up with them, but again they’re going to be the ones getting in touch with you should they get word on the expungement.
You should definitely stay on top of the judicial assistant, who is the judge’s legal assistant, and find out when the order has been granted. However, please don’t call the judicial assistant and treat them like they’re less than a judge. The judicial assistant is one of the most powerful people in this whole equation. Contact the judicial assistant no more than once every 30 days, and ask them politely what the status of the order is. The judge will either grant the order, request a hearing, or in some cases, deny the order. Hopefully, for the reasons explained before, this will not happen, based upon the fact that you did everything technically correct that you were supposed to.
Contact an Expungement Attorney Today
If you are interested in getting your record expunged and need help with the process please contact one of our expungement attorneys today for a free case review.