Nearly a decade into the practice of law, it is ever so apparent that most people don’t understand their own criminal records. The above- and below-average person are all in the same boat- they heard the legal terms at the time, but clearly no one explained the long-term effects.
If you’ve ever had contact with law enforcement, a record was probably made. Either there is a complaint, a citation, an incident report, an offense report and/or arrest report. In Florida, the local law enforcement office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement keep those records. Citations can be civil or criminal, meaning a “written arrest.” The prosecutor’s office can then take those reports and follow-up or charge someone. They (with the assistance of police) can issue a warrant for arrest.
A case that is prosecuted or where there is a formal or “written” arrest can resolve a few ways…You could go to trial and make the government prove the case then you’re sentenced. Or you negotiated a final disposition. These are examples of final dispositions or the end of a case.
1. Dismissed / declined to prosecute
2. Withhold/not convicted with no incarceration
3. Withhold/not convicted with incarceration
4. Withhold/not convicted with probation (any maybe some incarceration)
5. 2-4 with a conviction.
Basically- you know if you were arrested/ incarcerated or not. The problem is, most people equate having a “record” to incarceration. Wrong. If there was a case, there is a record. Whether it goes away is contingent on the result. There are some people who believe that they are convicted felons or not eligible for sealing/expunging, but that’s incorrect. However, for people with minor offenses including misdemeanors, traffic and criminal traffic offenses, your attorney could enter the plea on your behalf, and many people don’t quite understand what happened and they could have a very serious charge on their record.
People wrongly assume that a “drop,” “dismissal,” “withhold,” and even probation mean they don’t have a record. But someone somewhere can see that record unless you formally seal and/or expunge the charge. There are many triggers that change your record and the public’s ability to see your record. Without consulting with an attorney, you will be lost. In Florida, I can clear this up for you quickly.
But- watch out. A lawyer doing things on the cheap may not throughly investigate your record. For example, even attorneys cannot see your juvenile record without special authority. Juvenile records can be extremely damning later in life. I’ve also heard of attorneys who say that you don’t have to report sealed or expunged crimes when applying for a professional license like to the Florida Bar. Also false, and the false reporting (not the crime itself) can be keep you from getting the license. It very important that you speak to an attorneys who understands this specialized area.
The process itself if you qualify is someone straightforward, but takes time. If you’re ready to clear your record, call an attorney today.