What is Expungement?

In criminal law, one of the most common terms an individual, especially an arrestee, may hear during or after a criminal matter when working with an attorney is the word "expungement." Expunge means "to erase or remove completely." After an arrest, whether innocent or guilty, your criminal record lives on even if the court verdict is not guilty. How can this be? Under Florida Law, adult criminal history records are public unless sealed or expunged. Florida Statute 943.053(3) allows for the general public to have access to criminal history records under certain conditions. A criminal history record is created when a person is arrested and fingerprinted and includes the disposition of any charges stemming from that arrest. Even if there is an adjudication of guilt, withhold of adjudication, or even dismissal, the criminal record will live on forever despite the outcome of the case.

Having a criminal record can severely diminish your quality of life; it can take one unfortunate situation and leave a cloud over your head indefinitely. Nowadays, your "record" is not just something that is kept private in State government databases. It is widely accessible to anybody on the internet, including employers. Just the charges alone, despite the verdict of a case, allows room for judgment from current or prospective employers. To learn if your criminal case is eligible to be sealed and expunged, contact our office and our Palm Beach expungement lawyer can review your case promptly. 

What is a Criminal Dismissal?

A criminal dismissal is what happens when criminal proceedings are resolved in Florida without a conviction. Dismissed charges on the other hand are not to be confused with an acquittal which is when an individual accused of a crime is found not guilty of the crimes that are being charged. 

In Florida, the court or prosecutor may dismiss criminal charges before trial. This may happen due to mistakes in the original criminal complaint, lack or loss of evidence, or unavailability of needed witnesses. A criminal charge can also be dismissed if the individual being charged has had their constitutional rights violated. A common violation of constitutional rights in Florida is illegal searches and seizures. 

For example, if you are lawfully arrested, an inventory search can be done on your vehicle. The purpose of an inventory search isn't to look for illegal possessions, but to retrieve/make note of any property that belongs to you especially if your vehicle is to be towed. Contraband found during an inventory search can be used against you but must be found within one's rights. Evidence found if the car was not legally impounded, if the search was warrantless, or if the scope of the search exceeded the justification of prevention of theft can be thrown out in court. An experienced Florida criminal attorney can contest the search and see if the evidence is not admissible in court.

Key Differences Between a Florida Expungement and Case Dismissal

In Florida, expungements and dismissals vary in that:

  • Who is eligible 
  • Who the order is issued by
  • How it is granted
  • Whether a conviction is required is dependent on the charge
  • Whether it shows up in background checks

Remember, just because your case was dismissed does not automatically mean your case is expunged. When your case is expunged in Florida, it is removed from all government-controlled public records. Unfortunately, in certain circumstances, mugshots can remain on overseas predatory mugshot websites who will charge a large fee to remove your mugshot, or refuse to remove your mugshot altogether despite recent Florida mugshots laws passed in 2021 such as SB 1046.

If you or a loved one was arrested in the State of Florida, our office can determine your eligibility to have your case sealed or expunged. Click here to contact us immediately. You or your loved one may not be eligible to have your case sealed in expunged if:

  • You already have another petition underway to seal or expunge your record for another arrest.
  • You have a previous guilty conviction either as an adult or juvenile for the same type of offense.
  • You have already had another record sealed or expunged in the State of Florida or any other jurisdiction or state.
  • You have a previous adult criminal offense conviction. This also includes a criminal traffic conviction for DUI or driving without a license. In addition, if you have been previously been found guilty as an adult for a criminal ordinance violation, misdemeanor or felony, you are disqualified.
  • If you were found guilty as a juvenile for weapons charges, including carrying a concealed weapon, unlawful possession or discharge of a weapon or firearm on school property, and unlawful use of destructive devices including bombs; assault or battery; arson; petit theft; negligent treatment of a child; or animal cruelty.
  • You have a probation violation.
  • You have a “Withhold of Adjudication,” whether as an adult or juvenile for a variety of previous criminal offenses.
  • You currently have an open criminal case.
  • You are on probation or in the process of community service.
  • You have not satisfied any court-ordered financial obligations, such as restitution or paying court costs.

Our office has also put together a free webinar with information on how to have your Florida criminal case sealed and expunged. You can view the webinar here. To learn more about sealing and expunging, contact our office or call us at (561) 671-5995 to speak with a West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney immediately.

The Law Offices of Matthew Konecky handles sealing and expunging of cases in all of Palm Beach County, Palm Beach Gardens, West Palm Beach, Wellington, Boca Raton, Jupiter, Boynton Beach, Delray Beach, Loxahatchee, Royal Plam Beach, Riviera Beach, Lake Worth, Greenacres and all of Broward County.

What is the difference between a dismissal and expungement in Florida?

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