A felony charge in Florida remains on your record until you successfully apply for the record to be sealed or expunged – that is, permanently destroyed. Felony convictions, however, remain on your record for life unless you've been pardoned by the president or the governor. There is one unusual exception to this rule in Florida: You can be guilty of a felony without actually being convicted in a court. Certain criminals who plead guilty to crimes can apply to have their records sealed or expunged.
Removal of Felony Convictions
Once you've been found guilty of a felony in Florida, it can remain on your record for the rest of your life, with three exceptions. You can have it removed
- through a presidential pardon
- through a full pardon from the governor of Florida. Clemency does not remove a conviction from your record.
- through expungement or sealing of a crime when, after being found guilty, the judge withholds the conviction – often described as withholding of adjudication.
Withholding of Adjudication of Guilt vs. Conviction
A confusing distinction exists in Florida between being found guilty of a crime and being convicted of it. Even after you're found guilty, in relatively rare instances the judge can withhold your conviction and sentence, and instead impose a probationary period. If you successfully complete the probation, then 10 years from the conclusion of the trial you become eligible for the sealing or expungement of the record.
The Exception to the Rule
Almost all felons in Florida, after being found guilty of a crime, are convicted. Even in Florida, many kinds of felony and numerous specific criminal circumstances make felons ineligible for expungement even though the adjudication of guilt was withheld. If you think this complicated exception applies to you, consult a Florida criminal attorney.
Sealing of a Criminal Record and Expungement
When you're charged with a felony in Florida and not convicted, that charge remains on your record permanently unless you successfully act to remove it. This isn't easy, but with many exceptions you can get a Florida felony charge – not a conviction – off your record by having it sealed or removed entirely by a legal process known as expungement. The application processes are the same for both actions. Both remove the criminal record from public view, the only difference between them is that a sealed record still exists, but an expunged record has been destroyed.
In exceptional circumstances, a court can order a sealed record reopened, but it doesn't happen often. You can apply for both processes at the same time.
Applying for a Certificate of Eligibility
The process of sealing or expunging the felony charge has two steps. You begin by applying for a Certificate of Eligibility from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The certificate itself does not affect the record. It only allows the application for sealing or expungement to proceed. There are several circumstances that will trigger a denial:
- records shows a felony conviction
- record shows a conviction for certain driving violations, such as DUI or reckless driving
- record shows a prior sealing or expunction
- record shows a conviction for certain sex crimes
- another application for sealing or expungement is pending
- record reflects that court supervision on the charge has not been completed
Application for Sealing or Expungement
Once you have the Certificate of Eligibility, submit the application for sealing or expungement of your record to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). Official forms for applying and details of the process can be downloaded from the FDLE website. Different crimes require different forms, all of them downloadable from the site.
- The Law Offices of Michael T. Heider, P.A.
- The Law Firm of Higbee & Associates: Florida Expungement
- Law Offices of Timothy Hessinger: Withhold of Adjudication: One Free Bite at the Apple
- Florida Department of Law Enforcement: Reasons for Denial
- Collateral Consequences Center:Florida Restoration of Rights, Pardon, Expungement & Sealing
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