Bill to Seal Florida Criminal Records of People Found Not Guilty Goes to Governor

Florida lawmakers decided in favor of a measure that would wipe clean criminal records of those who are arrested, but later found “not guilty.” That would include some high-profile individuals such as Casey Anthony and George Zimmerman. However, the act is really intended to help those lesser-known individuals who are arrested on charges they beat or were later dropped. Supporters of the bill say it would allow these individuals to apply for jobs or rent apartments without having to worry that their online mugshot or a dropped criminal charges wcriminal defenseill surface in a background check.

The bill sailed through the state legislature, and is on its way to the governor’s desk.

Rep. Scott Plakon (R-Longwood) was quoted by the Orlando Sentinel as saying the fact that these charges plague people whose guilt was never proven in the eyes of the law is “tragic.” 

Both the state Senate and House passed the measure unanimously.

If Gov. Rick Scott gives his approval, that would mean records of those who have had their criminal charges dropped would automatically have their records sealed. It would also require companies – and news outlets – that post mugshots to take those images down without requiring the accused to pay a fee first.

When a record is sealed, it is no longer available to the public. To have a record expunged, meanwhile, would mean the record is effectively erased. While the bill would automatically seal criminal records through the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, it would also open the door for those found not guilty at trial to apply for all those records to be expunged. Because the sealed records would apply to all FDLE records, those dropped charges would not later surface in a criminal background check. However, records from county clerk or courthouse websites would remain available for public search, unless the individual specifically applied to have them sealed or expunged.

Those opposed to the bill are primarily public records advocates, who say those “not guilty” charges may tend to show a pattern of behavior, even if the evidence was lacking to secure a criminal conviction. They argue there is already a process for having one’s record expunged, and say the bill is problematic because it does not place a limit on how many times one’s record may be sealed, no matter how many times an individual is arrested or faces criminal charges. Some wondered if this was actually a thinly-veiled ploy for the state to make money. An analysis by the FDLE indicated this measure could mean 1.8 million records would be eligible to be sealed or expunged. Even if only 5 percent of those applied, that would about 90,000 applications annually, which would result in a statewide revenue of $6.6 million.

However, our Miami criminal defense lawyers are firmly of the mind that when the person is not guilty in the eyes of the law, there is no reason he or she should be held back by this looming criminal record.

Under the bill,  SB 118, mugshots could be removed with a written request to a website for the images to be taken down. The company would be required by law to do it within 10 days, or else risk a $1,000 fine and a civil lawsuit.

Contact the Miami criminal defense lawyers at Jacobs Keeley at (305) 358-7991 for a free consultation on your pending criminal matter.

Additional Resources:

Florida Bill Sealing Criminal Records Heading to Governor, April 28, 2017, Associated Press

More Blog Entries:

Florida Lawmakers: Minimum Mandatory Criminal Sentences “A Waste”, March 1, 2017, Miami Criminal Defense Attorney Blog