By Charles T. Wiggins

When a person is arrested in Florida, the arrest record stays around forever. As in forever . This can cause problems when applying for jobs and professional licenses.

Can I have my criminal record erased?

Answer: It depends. Most of the time, if the charges were dropped, or the sentence did not result in a conviction (more on that in a bit), the charges can be sealed or expunged. “Sealed” means that the arrest record still exists in the court file, but is inaccessible without a court order. “Expunged” means that the arrest record must be destroyed or obliterated.

What about those convictions?

Florida law has some odd provisions. One can be sentenced by the court and emerge without a conviction on his or her criminal record. This is known as having “adjudication withheld.” For example, if a first-time offender enters a plea to a shoplifting charge, it is not uncommon for the judge to withhold adjudication. This means that the judge has not “convicted” the offender. If adjudication is withheld, the offender does not have a conviction on his or her criminal record.

On the other hand, if the judge adjudicates the offender guilty, the person has a “conviction” on his or her criminal record. Florida judges have a lot of discretion in deciding whether to adjudicate a person guilty or withhold adjudication. Typically, a repeat offender, or a person accused of a serious crime, will be adjudicated guilty. Likewise, there are some crimes in which the judge is required to adjudicate a person guilty. DUIs fall within this category.

I want to have my record sealed or expunged. Am I eligible?

Here’s the general rule: If a person was not convicted of the offense (i.e., the judge withheld adjudication), he or she may be eligible to have their criminal record sealed or expunged. Likewise, if the charges were dropped, he or she may be able to have their criminal records sealed or expunged.

If the person was convicted of the crime for which he or she was arrested, Florida law does not allow the person to have that arrest expunged or sealed.

How do I get my arrest record expunged or sealed?

The process for having an arrest record expunged or sealed is complicated. It is time-consuming. A minor slip-up can doom your effort to failure. We recommend that you speak to us. We’ve handled lots of these cases, and we can help you determine if you’re eligible to have your record expunged or sealed. If you’re eligible, we’ll help you negotiate the process for getting a “clean slate.”