Getting a criminal case dismissed is the best outcome one can hope for when they are facing charges. Good attorneys can be instrumental in persuading prosecutors to dismiss charges when the evidence is weak. If this occurs before formal charges are filed, this is known as a "no action" or "no info."
If charges are dismissed after they have been formally filed, this is known as a nolle prosse. Cases can be nolle prossed for a number of reasons. Most commonly, cases are nolle prossed if the State does not believe that they can prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt or if the accused successfully completes a diversion program, such as Pretrial Diversion, Pretrial Intervention, or Drug Court.
Let's be clear about one thing: getting a charge dismissed does not mean that the charge comes off of your record. Getting arrested (either physically or by the issuance of a written promise to appear) results in an arrest record. Even if the charges are immediately dismissed, you will have the arrest on your criminal record for the rest of your life unless you decide to expunge.
For purposes of this entry, we will only discuss expunging your record. Sealing your record is a different process and applies to cases that are either disposed of by way of an acquittal at trial or by way of a plea whereby the accused receives a withhold of adjudication to a qualifying offense.
For more about sealing your criminal record, click here.
Expungement is a process solely designated for criminal charges that have been dismissed or records that have been sealed for at least 10 years.
Expunging a record basically means that the Court in which your case was heard will issue an order directing the police and Clerk of Courts to physically destroy your arrest record so that it is no longer available to the public. This process legally permits you to deny your arrest.
In order to be eligible for an expungement, your case must be dismissed, and you must have no criminal convictions on your record. Any criminal conviction will prevent you from expunging any record. So if you were adjudicated guilty for a misdemeanor in 1990, and you want to expunge a felony that was dismissed in 2011, you cannot do it. Florida is a tough jurisdiction and will not permit the expungement of records for candidates who have convictions in their criminal history.
Retaining an attorney is very important when beginning the expungement process. That's because attorneys are trained in the process and know how to do it correctly. I can't tell you how many clients have come to me who tried and failed at expunging their own records. This is not the time to do it yourself.
The attorney will provide you with all of the documents that you need to sign. The only step that you must take on your own is having your fingerprints taken at a local police station.
Once the documents are properly prepared and notarized, they can be submitted to the appropriate government agencies.
First, the State Attorney's Office must approve the expungement application. Secondly, FDLE must approve the application and confirm the candidate's eligibility. This is when your fingerprints come in handy because FLDE must compare them against all other fingerprints in the national database. This is to make sure that you don't have any other criminal history that could render you ineligible to expunge.
Once FDLE approves the application, the process is almost complete. The attorney will file the petition with the Court. Most of the time, as long as FDLE issues a certificate of eligibility, the Court will grant the expungement. Once granted, all public information regarding your arrest will be purged from the online databases and you will be free to legally deny that you were arrested.
Remember - certain agencies are entitled to information regarding expunged records. Click here to learn more about which agencies have the right to know about an expunged arrest. If you are applying for a professional license or job with any of these agencies, you may have to disclose your arrest, even though it was expunged.
The entire process takes about 4 - 6 months.