Why does expungement and sealing take so long in Florida?
Updated: Mar 9
So you were arrested, the case was resolved, your punishment is over and you want to move on with your life. Maybe you've applied for a couple jobs, they find the arrest in a background check and suddenly, you're not the right "fit for their organization." Or let's say you locate the perfect apartment, you meet the landlord, you fill out the application and everything is looking like you're going to get it...but you don't. That may be because your criminal record gives people the wrong impression of what kind of person you are. Most crimes occur because someone is in the wrong place at the wrong time or they made a mistake that will never happen again. Unfortunately, some people believe that anyone who is arrested is a bad person, a criminal, and can't be trusted. That's why many people get their criminal records expunged or sealed.
The expungement and sealing process is almost identical, and both take a long time. Due to lack of funding in many government agencies and the sheer number of people that want to expunge or seal their record, this process usually takes 9-12 months from start to finish.
Fingerprints, Police, and Notaries, "oh my!"
The basics on the application have to be filled out, including a listing of the arrest you want to expunge or seal and a notarized signature swearing to the truth of the information in the form. Additionally, you have to go to a police station to get a new set of fingerprints on the fingerprint form in the application. Do you have to get this done at a police station? Yes, you do. Even though you probably don't want to go near a police officer after getting arrested, the instructions are specific. Do you have to get new fingerprints if you've already gotten them done recently? Yes, again, you must follow the instructions exactly or your expungement or sealing won't go through.
More hoops to jump through.
The next step is that a certified (i.e. original, stamped) copy of the disposition needs to be obtained from the Clerk of Courts in whatever Florida county the case was resolved in. If the case was never filed on, this may be called "Notice of Non Filing," if the case was dropped by the State Attorney's Office, it will be called a "Nolle Prosequi," and if you plead to a crime but adjudication was withheld, then the paperwork will be called a "Judgement & Sentence." If you are pursuing an expungement, then the State Attorney's Office needs to review the application to confirm that the information is correct. You have to mail them the application and it needs to be processed and returned, that takes time. More waiting. However, it may help speed things up if you include a stamped, self-addressed envelope because if you help them, they're more likely to help you by placing your application at the top of the pile instead of the bottom.
Up to Tallahassee and back again
Once the application is returned by the prosecutor, you have to send it (along with your certified disposition, fingerprints and most importantly, a non-refundable fee) up to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. They will review your application and if you qualify for an expungement or sealing, they will issue you a Certificate of Eligibility. There are only a few people that are tasked with this assignment at FDLE so the typical turnaround time for just this step is 6 months. If anything is wrong with your application they will send it back and you don't want to have waited all that time to just start over again.
Your honor, please help me move on with my life
Yes, as in most things pertaining to criminal law, expungement and sealing comes down to the discretion of a Judge. The statute clearly puts the final decision in the hands of a Judge and if they don't want to expunge or seal your record they don't have to. A motion must be filed with the court, and if the prosecutor or arresting law enforcement agency objects, then you will have a hearing to explain to the Judge why you deserve the expungement or sealing of your record.
Expunging or sealing your record can be a complicated and long process that can be made easier by hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney. Seth Hyman Law ( https://www.sethhymanlaw.com ) exclusively provides legal assistance in criminal, DUI, and driving offense cases throughout Central Florida. Additionally, we handle sealing and expungements. Call 407-274-7501 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for a free consultation.