Do You Have a Right to Seal or Expunge Your Record under Florida Law?

Expunge FL Record
Expunge FL Record

A denial of your motion is like a rejection of your request. Can a court reject your request to seal or expunge your FL record? Yes, but with limits.

Florida law permits defendants to seal or expunge their criminal records.   If you want to seal or expunge your Florida record, you must meet certain eligibility requirements. Not everyone qualifies for a record seal or expunction. If you want to expunge your Florida criminal record, there is a list of requirements that you must meet. The requirements are set forth in Section 943.0585 of the Florida Statutes. If you do not meet the requirements for a record expunction, you may be able to seal your Florida criminal record pursuant to Section 943.059.  While these two laws are very similar to one another, Section 943.059 allows a person to seal his or her record, even if he or she has pleaded guilty or no contest to the charge.

If you do fulfill the requirements of Florida Statute Section 943.0585 to expunge your record or Section 943.059 to seal your record, this does not guarantee that you will be able to do so. The law makes it clear that a person does not have an absolute right to seal or expunge his or her record in Florida. In fact, Section 943.0585 specifically states, “This section does not confer any right to the expunction of any criminal history record, and any request for expunction of a criminal history record may be denied at the sole discretion of the court.” Section 943.059 reads similarly, “This section does not confer any right to the sealing of any criminal history record, and any request for sealing a criminal history record may be denied at the sole discretion of the court.” This does not mean that the court has the right to deny a petition to seal or expunge a Florida criminal record for just any reason.

For example, if your Jacksonville criminal attorney has petitioned the court to expunge your record, there may be an instance when a hearing is required. After listening to your lawyer’s position along with the state attorney’s argument, the court will make a ruling. The court will decide whether or not to grant or deny your motion to expunge the record. If the court denies your motion, it must do so within the confines of the law. Your Jacksonville criminal lawyer will be in a better position to explain this to you and prepare you for the hearing.

There have been several Florida appellate cases in which an appeals court reversed the lower court’s denial of a petition to seal or expunge a criminal record. In some of these cases, the court denied the petitioner’s motion without a valid reason. Here is a case from 2012 that serves as a good example.  In Shanks v. State, the First District Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s decision to deny Shank’s petition to seal his criminal history. It is important to note that the First DCA is the appeals court for the Jacksonville area, including Duval, Nassau, and Clay County FL. The facts of Shanks v. State are as follows:

“Mr. Shanks had entered a plea of nolo contendere to a charge of possession of cocaine, in violation of section 893.13(6)(a), Florida Statutes (2009). The trial court withheld adjudication of guilt and sentenced him to twelve months’ drug offender probation with the special condition that he complete a six-month recovery program. Upon request of his probation officer, Mr. Shanks’ probation was terminated early. He then filed his petition to expunge or seal, which meets all rule and statutory criteria.” Shanks v. State, 82 So. 3d 1226, 1226-27 (Fla. 1st DCA 2012).

The Florida First District Court of Appeals quoted the law that applied from an older Florida appellate case:

“‘[O]nce an applicant satisfies the criteria set forth in Rules 3.692 and 3.989(d), the applicant is presumptively entitled to an order to seal or expunge court records. However, the petition is addressed to the sound discretion of the trial court, and the petition may be denied if there is good reason for denial based on the facts and circumstances of the individual case.’ Anderson v. State, 692 So.2d 250, 252 (Fla. 3d DCA 1997) (citation omitted).”

In Shank, the lower court simply denied the petition to seal the criminal record without reason. The problem is that “the trial court entered an order denying the petition to seal, stating (apart from formal parts) only: ‘Having thoroughly reviewed the case and in consideration to the Amended Petition to Seal Criminal History Record, Response, and being fully advised in the premises, this Court denies the Petition to Expunge/Seal, pursuant to F.S. § 943.059.’” The Florida appellate court ruled that this was insufficient:

“Here denial in the exercise of sound discretion would have required some good reason based on facts and circumstances of Mr. Shanks’ individual case. But ‘[w]ithout [any] evidence at [a] hearing or stating any reason for denying [Mr. Shanks’] request in its order, it appears the trial court had no factual basis to support the denial of [Mr. Shanks’] request to seal his records.’ Cole v. State, 941 So.2d 549, 551 (Fla. 1st DCA 2006). Accordingly, we reverse and remand for further proceedings. See Light v. State, 80 So.3d 414 (Fla. 1st DCA 2012); Hobbs v. State, 80 So.3d 415 (Fla. 1st DCA 2012); Baker v. State, 53 So.3d 1147, 1148–49 (Fla. 1st DCA 2011); VFD v. State, 19 So.3d 1172, 1175 (Fla. 1st DCA 2009).”

 

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