Florida is a state which allows certain persons to have their criminal record either sealed or expunged, which can include someone with a theft charge. A record sealing is especially important in theft cases, since a charge of theft is considered to be a crime of dishonesty. A sealing can also prevent personal and professional embarrassment, since the case history is available to anyone who has either internet access or the ability to travel to the Manatee or Sarasota County Clerk of Court. For instance, both counties have public access websites, which allow name searches which reveal the complete history and disposition of the case. Persons accessing the Sarasota County clerk of court website can access the police reports and court documents. The same can be done with the Manatee County website (www.manateeclerk.org). By having your record sealed, public access to this information through those websites is completely eliminated.
Unfortunately, some people will not be able to get their records sealed or expunged. If the Court adjudicates you guilty of the theft charge, this will prohibit you from a record sealing, regardless of your lack of prior record. In addition, a person who has any criminal history, either in Florida or out of state, is disqualified from a record sealing. A person in Florida is only allowed one record sealing in a lifetime.
To have your Florida theft charge record either sealed or expunged, the procedure begins with a formal application, which includes fingerprinting. This application must be submitted to the prosecutor’s office, which then signs off on the paperwork. After that, the application must be sent to Tallahassee to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), which determines whether the person is actually eligible for the sealing. If all of these steps are successfully taken, and the person is determined to be eligible, then a “certificate of eligibility” is issued by FDLE. The person must then set a hearing before the appropriate Judge, who even then can deny the petition in his or her discretion. As with any legal matter, it is always preferable to have an attorney handle this procedure matter, since the attorney will undoubtedly be able to advise you about any potential problems.