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Tampa Law Firms Outline the Process of Sealing and Expunging Criminal Records

Tampa Law Firms Outline the Process of Sealing and Expunging Criminal Records

Having a criminal record can make life extremely difficult. It can prevent you from getting a job, renting an apartment, or even volunteering in your community. That’s why many people look into sealing or expunging their criminal records in Tampa. But navigating the legal system can be confusing and overwhelming without proper guidance. This article outlines the step-by-step process and requirements for sealing and expunging criminal records in Tampa, written in plain language by local law firms.

What Does It Mean to Seal or Expunge Your Criminal Record?

Sealing and expunging are legal processes that limit public access to your criminal record. Sealing sets your record aside so that only certain agencies can view it, like law enforcement. Expunging goes a step further by destroying or erasing the record altogether. The process you qualify for depends on the type of offense and outcome of your case.

In Tampa, you must petition the court to have your record sealed or expunged. The requirements vary based on your specific situation, but some common ones include:

  • Waiting period after final disposition (1-15 years depending on offense)
  • No prior sealings or expungements
  • Completion of sentence terms
  • No pending criminal cases

Keep reading to learn more about eligibility based on your specific circumstances.

Non-Convictions: Arrests, Dismissals or Nolle Prosequi

If you were arrested but never formally charged, or your case was dismissed or dropped (nolle prosequi), you may qualify for an expungement. This clears the arrest and any related records from your name.

The waiting period is typically shorter compared to convictions — just 1 year for misdemeanors and 3 years for felonies. Certain very serious charges like murder have longer waiting periods or may not qualify.

One exception applies to domestic violence arrests. These require a certification that you haven’t been convicted of any other domestic charge since then.

Misdemeanor Convictions

For misdemeanor convictions, whether you qualify for sealing or expungement depends on the offense type and outcome. In Tampa, some common sealable misdemeanors include:

  • Petit theft
  • Possession of cannabis <20 grams
  • Driving under the influence (DUI)

The waiting period is usually at least 3 years after completing all sanctions like probation. Typically you cannot have more than one sealing in your lifetime.

Some minor misdemeanors may qualify for expungement instead. Common expungeable misdemeanors in Tampa include:

  • Disorderly conduct
  • Trespass
  • Worthless checks

The waiting period is typically shorter at 1 to 3 years. You also cannot have any prior expungements.

Felony Convictions

For more serious felony offenses, sealing is very limited in eligibility. The only sealable felonies in Florida are third-degree offenses, and only if adjudication was withheld. This means you pled guilty or no contest but were not formally “convicted.”

If adjudication was withheld for a third-degree felony, you must wait at least 10 years to petition for sealing if eligible. You also cannot have any prior sealings.

In rare cases, certain low-level third-degree felonies may qualify for judicial expungement after 15 years. But the requirements are strict, including proving rehabilitation and lack of public safety risk.

How to File for Sealing or Expungement in Tampa

The process for sealing or expunging a criminal record is complex, with lots of paperwork and precise filing instructions. That’s why working with an experienced Tampa expungement attorney is highly recommended. They can handle all the specifics so you don’t miss any important deadlines or requirements.

If filing on your own, you must submit a specific petition based on whether you are requesting sealing or expungement. You also have to obtain certified copies of all case documents, fingerprints and final dispositions. Multiple agencies must be properly served copies of the petition as well.

Everything must be filed in the correct division based on level of offense and which county it occurred in. For example, misdemeanors and criminal traffic offenses are handled in county court. Meanwhile, felony cases go through circuit court.

There is also a filing fee around $75 for county cases or $250 for circuit cases. Indigent applicants may request a fee waiver if eligible.

After filing, there will be a court date scheduled for your expungement or sealing hearing. You must attend this hearing and may have to provide testimony about your eligibility. The judge will either approve or deny the petition.

If approved, the court issues an order to seal or expunge your records. This is sent to all agencies that may have your criminal information so they can seal or destroy it as applicable.

Sealing vs. Expungement: Key Differences

There’s an important difference in what information gets sealed versus expunged. Sealing limits public access to your records without erasing anything. Meanwhile, expungement clears the record altogether.

When your record is sealed, background checks will not reveal the offense to most employers or landlords. However, sealed cases still exist in court and law enforcement databases. They can be accessed for limited purposes like new arrest processing or if you apply for certain jobs.

With an expungement, arrest information and records are destroyed from all applicable agencies. The case is treated like it never existed. However, very sensitive fingerprint databases may still retain the record while restricting access.

In summary:

  • Sealing sets record aside, but it still exists in some databases
  • Expungement erases the record more completely
  • Sealing restores some rights; expungement restores more rights

Long-Term Implications of Sealing and Expungement

Getting your record sealed or expunged does not completely erase what happened. There are still some long-term implications to consider.

For example, the offense may still appear in certain background checks despite sealing or expungement, like for national security clearances. And while you can legally deny existence of an expunged record, lying about it can backfire if discovered.

You should also know that sealed or expunged offenses still count as “prior offenses” if you get into legal trouble again. The judge may consider it when setting bond or sentencing if re-arrested.

Finally, while sealing and expungement restore many rights, some exceptions apply. For instance, certain professional licenses can still be denied despite record clearance. And expunged cases still count as strikes for purposes of Florida’s habitual offender law.

Why Work With a Tampa Expungement Attorney

Trying to seal or expunge your criminal record on your own is extremely difficult, with lots of room for mistakes. The legal system is complex and unforgiving if you miss deadlines or important details.

That’s why working with an experienced Tampa expungement lawyer is so valuable. They handle everything for you properly so you don’t have to stress about the process. Attorneys like Sammis Law Firm are familiar with every step, from compiling the right documentation to representing you at your hearing.

An attorney can also advise if you qualify for record clearance based on your specific situation. If eligible, they walk you through pros and cons of sealing versus expungement so you understand the differences. This empowers you to make the best decision for your personal and professional goals.

Sammis Law Firm, de la Grana | Boardman, William Wynne and other Tampa law firms have successfully guided numerous clients through sealing and expungement. Take advantage of their expertise so you can finally put your past behind you.

Ready to Expunge Your Tampa Criminal Record?

We hope this article gave you a better understanding of the record sealing and expungement process in Tampa. As you can see, the requirements are complex and vary widely based on your unique case factors. That’s why working with a knowledgeable attorney is so important.

If you’re ready to clear your Florida criminal record through expungement or sealing, contact a Tampa law firm for a free consultation. Qualified attorneys will review your history and advise if you are eligible. They will then handle everything properly so you can finally move forward with a clean slate.

Don’t let a past mistake continue haunting your future. Take control by exploring record clearance options today. You deserve a fresh start.

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