Expunged vs Sealed: What’s the Difference?


If you have ever been charged with a crime, your case file becomes public record and anyone can go and look at your file at the Clerk of the Court.  Even if your case is dropped, dismissed, or you are found not guilty at trial, your name will still appear in criminal record searches, background checks, and other search engines open to the public.  The only way to prevent this is to have your case sealed or expunged.

Having your case sealed or expunged is a wonderful tool that can improve your chances of finding employment and clear your reputation.  If you are successful in having your record sealed or expunged you can actually deny the charges ever existed, even under oath, with a few limited exceptions as provided in Fla. Statute 943.0585(4)(a).  But what is the difference between the two options?

Effectively they are very similar.  In both cases your file will not be accessible by the public.  In addition, the case will not appear on regular employer background checks and you can deny the arrest and entire incident ever occurred. There are exceptions such as applications for employment with any law enforcement agency, state bar examiners, and employment working in close proximity to children or the elderly. Every circumstance is a little bit different and an experienced criminal attorney can help.

The main difference between sealing and expunging is that when a case is expunged, the arresting agency, prosecution, and the probation officer’s files are actually destroyed.  Florida Department of Law Enforcement will keep a copy, however it is not available to the public.  When you have your case sealed, all agency files are sealed with tape but not destroyed.

The other significant difference is which option you qualify for. To qualify to have your case expunged, you have to have absolutely no prior convictions and the charges have to be dismissed.  Dismissal means that the prosecutor dropped the case, the Judge granted a motion to dismiss, or you were acquitted at trial.  You can also have your case expunged if you previously had the case sealed for 10 years or more.

To qualify for a seal, you can have pled guilty, no contest, or even have been found guilty at trial as long as adjudication was withheld.  There are of course certain types of offenses that do not qualify. An experienced attorney can help determine if you qualify.

If you do qualify there are several important steps that need to be taken.  The first of which is obtaining a certificate of eligibility from FDLE.  But just because you are eligible does not mean it is automatic.  The Judge will have the final say and the Prosecutor can object.  That is why it is important to consult with an attorney to make sure all matters are handled appropriately.

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