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Is It Possible to Clear My Record of a Drug Conviction, and How?

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Is It Possible to Clear My Record of a Drug Conviction, and How?

Florida law allows certain criminal charges to be expunged or sealed, removing them from public record. Juvenile drug offenses have a strong chance for successful expungement if the offender has no other recent criminal charges. Unfortunately for adult offenders in Florida, expungement and sealing are mostly reserved for those who have not been convicted or pled guilty to the charges. Even so, some adult drug offenders with otherwise clean records can seal and eventually expunge their offenses.

Florida Law on Expungement and Sealing

Expungement (also called “expunction”) is the legal process that clears a charge from a criminal record. In Florida, the expunged record is literally destroyed.

Expunged charges will not appear on criminal background checks, and for most purposes, they may be treated as if they never existed. They only have to be disclosed under particular circumstances, such as applications for certain positions of public trust. Unlike expungement, sealing a record hides the charges from public searches rather than erasing them.

Juvenile Record Expungement

Florida law allows expungement of most juvenile criminal records when the offender reaches 21 unless they were a “serious or habitual juvenile offender or committed to a juvenile correctional facility.” In that case, the date of expungement is pushed back several years. Certain sexual offenses and “forcible felonies,” including robbery and burglary, must remain on record. See Fla. Stat. § 943.0515.

Early expungement is available for a juvenile who meets certain conditions. If they—

  • Are between the ages of 18 and 21
  • Have committed no criminal offense within 5 years of the application
  • Can swear that they are not under court supervision related to any offense they seek to expunge

—they may apply for expungement before the age of 21.

Young offenders who successfully complete a juvenile diversion program for a misdemeanor or non-forcible felony may be able to expunge that charge once the program is finished. If they are still younger than 18, their parent or guardian must apply for them. To qualify, they must present a statement from the state attorney attesting that they have not committed or been charged with another crime or ordinance violation. Law enforcement officials may still see the record of this crime while making criminal investigations or determining eligibility for other diversion programs. See Fla. Stat. § 943.0582.

Although these avenues require paperwork and fees, they allow a young person with a drug offense and an otherwise good record to clear it from public view.

Options for Adult Offenders

It is considerably more difficult to have a drug charge removed from the record of an adult offender. Florida laws on sealing and expungement are intended for those who were not convicted or did not plead guilty.

However, drug offenders with minor charges and otherwise clean records have a chance. There is a way to get a charge sealed, rather than expunged, even with a finding of guilt—if the court elected to “withhold adjudication.” And if that case is sealed for ten years, expungement is possible.

In Florida, a court may choose to withhold adjudication in a case, even if a defendant is found guilty or enters a guilty plea. Afterwards, the defendant typically enters probation, pays a fine, or both. If asked, the defendant can then truthfully say that they have never been convicted of the crime.

Once the defendant has completed their supervision, they can apply for the record to be sealed. They may only make this request once, although a court can decide to seal multiple charges arising from more than one arrest if the arrests are “substantially related.” Certain charges, however, cannot be sealed or expunged by law. These include manufacturing a controlled substance and drug trafficking. See Fla. Stat. § 943.0584.

In order to qualify for sealing, a defendant must:

  • Never have been adjudicated guilty of “any of the acts stemming from the arrest or alleged criminal activity” at issue
  • Never have been adjudicated guilty in Florida of any felony or any of thirteen named misdemeanors, including petit theft, assault, and certain weapons charges
  • No longer be under court supervision in regard to the charge at issue
  • Never had a previous sealing or expungement as an adult

See Fla. Stat. § 943.059. A defendant who meets these qualifications can receive a certificate of eligibility from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. With this certificate, they can apply to the court and request that their record be sealed.

A sealed record is only available to the offender, their attorney, and a few concerned parties, including:

  • Criminal justice agencies, for purposes including firearms purchases and background checks for employment applications in law enforcement
  • State court judges, for decisionmaking purposes
  • Certain entities and agencies that hire or license professionals in positions of trust, such as the Florida Bar, the Department of Education, and the Department of Children and Families

Outside of those parties or proceedings, the law states that the defendant “may lawfully deny or fail to acknowledge the arrests covered by the sealed record.”
After their drug offense record has remained under seal for ten years, the defendant can seek to have it expunged. Again, they need to have maintained a clean criminal record, according to the requirements above. Once the charge is expunged, it is physically destroyed and unavailable for search.

Need Help?

This is a confusing set of laws, not easy to navigate. An experienced defense attorney can help you determine what can be expunged and what steps to take. And if you are facing charges, they will work to help you preserve your future. If you have questions about expungement, sealing, or drug charges in Florida, call our Orlando offices today at (407) 743-8430.

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