A criminal record can change your future radically. It can haunt you forever, making it almost impossible to live a normal life, even if you become an exemplary citizen.
There are two ways to change this picture: If you qualify, you can have your criminal record sealed or expunged. These procedures are similar, but there are some key differences.
The basis for record sealing
If you either plead guilty or no contest to a crime, if you receive a withhold of adjudication and if you have no prior convictions, you may be eligible for having your criminal record sealed. This means that neither the court nor any law enforcement agencies will be able to acknowledge the existence of your record, nor can they disclose your record to the public.
Only one expungement is possible
Expungement of your criminal record will probably be your ultimate goal if there is no conviction and if you have not pled guilty to any kind of criminal offense. The court physically destroys your record. The beauty of this procedure is that having an expunged record puts you within your rights to say “no” in the event someone asks you if you have a criminal record. This question does not usually come up in casual conversation, but it is good to know that if someone does a background check on you, no activity will surface. Expungement basically returns your world to where it was before your arrest or before you faced charges. It is a powerful tool, and you can only use it one time.
Guidelines for eligibility
A criminal defense attorney can fill you in on the criteria you will need to meet in order to be eligible for record expungement, but among the main points of eligibility are that criminal proceedings against you were dismissed, the judge found you not guilty of a crime or acquitted you following a trial. Keep in mind that although your criminal record will be destroyed in this process, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement will keep one copy on file. However, the information it contains will never be disclosed to the public.