With the proliferation of private background check companies, your personal information - including your criminal history - is available to anybody.
This is especially true if you have a conviction on your record. A conviction is an adjudication of guilt and it remains on your criminal record permanently.
Unfortunately, many people have been convicted and they don’t even realize it.
If you have ever accepted a plea that included “credit for time served” or “CTS” then you may have received a conviction.
A guilty plea to a criminal traffic offense such as a DWLS (driving while license suspended) or NVDL (no valid driver’s license) may result in a conviction. Many people fail to differentiate between a non-criminal offense, such as speeding or failure to maintain a single lane, and a criminal offense. A non-criminal conviction will not hurt you but a criminal conviction will.
So what do you do if you have a conviction?
Realistically, unless a mandatory conviction must be imposed for your charge, you should receive a withhold of adjudication for your first offense for anything less than a second-degree felony.
Mandatory convictions for third-degree felonies include fleeing and eluding and aggravated assault with a firearm.
In Florida, if you plead guilty or no contest to a count of DUI or are found guilty at trial, the judge must impose a conviction.
If you have a conviction from several years ago for a non-DUI misdemeanor offense and you have not been arrested since, you may want to retain an attorney to see if the conviction can be modified into a withhold of adjudication. This can only be done with the consent of the State Attorney’s Office but it has been my experience that if you were convicted for your first offense, the charge was non-violent, and you have no other criminal history, you may be able to get your conviction changed into a withhold. If you have a withhold of adjudication, you may then be able to seal the record.
Remember, you cannot seal or expunge a conviction.
Eric Matheny is a defense attorney representing clients charged with criminal matters in Miami-Dade and Broward.