For nearly three decades the lawyers in our office have been engaged in the sealing and expungement of criminal records arising out of Pinellas County. During that time period, the laws have changed, as have the procedures for seeking this relief. It is important to note that not all states provide for the opportunity to essentially “erase” an arrest or criminal prosecution. It is only because of the grace of the Florida legislature, that this opportunity exists in Florida. For this reason, eligibility is strictly governed by state statute, along with compliance with the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure.
Sealed: If a criminal record is “sealed” governmental agencies must deny the existence of the record and they are prohibited from disseminating any information regarding the record;
Expunged: If a criminal record is “expunged” all governmental agencies, with the exception of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, are required to literally destroy all records.
Is There Much of a Difference?
From a practical standpoint, some would argue that there is very little difference in getting your records sealing under Florida Statute Section 943.059 versus having them expunged under Florida Statute Section 943.0585. Under both circumstances, you would be restored to the position you occupied before you were arrested or charged with a criminal offense. With some limited exceptions, under both scenarios you would be able to lawfully deny that you were ever arrested or charged with that offense.
Some clients feel more comfortable knowing that their criminal records have been destroyed. However, to have your record expunged you must satisfy a stricter criteria:
1. Your case can not have resulted in a withhold of adjudication, unless the records have previously been sealed for a period of ten years with no intervening convictions;
2. Your case resulted in a “no Information,” dismissal or Nolle Prosequi., and
3. You otherwise meet all of the other qualifications associated with the “sealing” of your criminal records.
It is seemingly unfair, that if you were acquitted of the charge by having been found “not guilty” of the criminal offense, you are initially only eligible to have your records “sealed.” Florida Statute Section 943.0585(2)(a)(2).
How it Works
When the Pinellas County Circuit Court grants a petition to seal or expunge your criminal records a certified copy of that court order is sent to the following governmental agencies directing them to immediately remove from public view or physically destroy their records:
- Pinellas County Clerk of Court
- Pinellas County State Attorney's Office
- The Local Law Enforcement Agency that arrested you
- The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FCIC rap sheet)
- The Federal Bureau of Investigation (NCIC rap sheet)
Commercial Data Gathering Services
It is important to note that the Court’s Order to Seal only pertains to “official” records. Any information gathered from public record sources by commercial data gathering services before the record was sealed or expunged is not subject to the Court order. As such, despite the Court order, it is possible that information concerning your case could subsequently appear on computer generated commercial data gathering reports. We have found that most of these commercial reports that list an arrest history use cautionary language such as “possible criminal records”. They also typically includes a caveat that employs language to the following effect: “The commercially available data sources used on these reports have errors. Data is sometimes entered poorly, processed incorrectly, and is generally not free from defect. This system should not be relied upon as definitively accurate. Before relying on any data this system supplies, it should be independently verified.”
Independent verification would of course require access to, and review of, the official Court records. However, if your records were sealed or expunged, those official records are no longer accessible to any inquiring member of the public. Accordingly, should an individual or business attempt to verify commercial background data against the Court’s official records, such an effort should result in a finding or conclusion that the commercial data must be in error.
Arrest Data on the Internet
If information about your case appears on the Internet, a court ordered sealing or expungement is not going to cause the data to be removed. It must be remembered that the court order only applies to “official” records. The Pinellas judge has no jurisdiction to direct a private party or commercial entity to remove online data.
As you may have already ascertained, shady Internet entrepreneurs will sometimes take advantage of your misfortune and the easy availability of online arrest data. In the past, they have secured booking information from the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department and case progress data from the Clerk of Court. Some of these online “mugshot” companies who act in good faith will voluntarily remove the data if you provide them with a certified copy of the court order sealing or expunging your records. Others, will likely hold you at ransom and attempt to extort a fee from you before they agree to remove the data. Much of this problem was alleviated in January of 2014 when the Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announced his agency’s decision to no longer publish online booking photos. See: Pinellas Sheriff Removes Online Booking Photos to Stamp Out Mugshot Websites.
Criminal Charges we Routinely Seal or Expunge
Felony Drug Charges
Possession of Marijuana
Grand Theft Auto
Solicitation of Prostitution
Exposure of Sexual Organs
Call us to See if You Qualify
Our clients are minimally involved in the sealing and expungement process. Normally, they are not required to attend any court appearances in connection with this remedy. In fact, you can simply call us on the phone to determine your eligibility. We are lawyers who will review the online court records and ask you a few questions to see if you qualify. Typically, we can advise you right over the phone if you are a good candidate.
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