Consequences of Arrests in Florida

July 1, 2015

An arrest, even when no trial results, or when the arrestee is found innocent, has far-reaching consequences. Arrests are matters of public record and they can affect a person’s ability to get a job, find housing, get into college, and more.

In Florida, a person’s criminal history information is a matter of public record. Criminal history information includes arrests even if they never result in a trial or conviction. It also includes the disposition of the arrest, whether it results in a conviction, an acquittal, or the charges are dismissed before trial.

Having criminal history available as a public record can cause employment problems. It is common for employers to use criminal background checks when hiring, and that can make it harder for those who have been arrested to compete for jobs. A basic background check will reveal an arrest and the nature of the charges. A Florida employer can refuse to hire a person for any reason not protected by law (race, sex, religion, national origin, etc.), so employers can refuse to hire a person on the basis of having been arrested. Arrests can also cause trouble when dealing with landlords, college admissions officers, loan officers, and other parties who may want to conduct a background check.

Fair Credit Reporting Act

The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act offers some protections to those who have been arrested. If an employer runs a background check, the Act requires that the employer must:

  • Obtain the job applicant’s consent
  • Notify the applicant if he or she may be disqualified on the basis of the report
  • Give the applicant a copy of the report
  • Tell the applicant if the final decision not to hire is made on the basis of the report

It also states that agencies who run background checks may not include in their reports arrest records that are over seven years old, unless the job being applied for pays more than $75,000 per year.

Sealing and Expungement

In certain circumstances, a Florida arrest record may be sealed or expunged. Sealing is available in nonviolent cases where adjudication was withheld, meaning that the case went to trial, or the defendant entered a plea, but the court withheld adjudication, and no conviction resulted. If a case is sealed, then the public can no longer view the arrest record, and so it will not show up on a background check. Only a few government agencies will be able to view the record, along with anyone with a court order.

Expungement is available in cases where no charges were filed, when charges were dismissed (nolle prosequi), or when the defendant was found not guilty at trial. If an arrest record is expunged, any government agency that would have had access to a sealed record can know that there is an expunged record, and, if they can get a court order, they can have access to the actual record.

In Florida, a person can only seal or expunge one eligible offense or arrest in his or her lifetime. There is an exception if the court finds that the additional arrest is directly related to the original sealed or expunged record.

It is important to be aware that sealing or expunging a criminal record does not affect private databases. There are companies who assemble information from the state and counties and make it available to employers and the general public. If an employer or other party searches those companies in their background searches, sealed or expunged records may be uncovered.

Unfortunately, even mistaken arrests can lead to significant troubles in employment and other areas. If your criminal record is causing you trouble, please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein for a free consultation.