Entitlement to a Hearing

Upon the filing a legally sufficient petition to seal or expunge, a defendant is entitled to hearing to determine whether the request should be granted.  Orozco v. State, 920 So. 2d 208 (Fla. 4th DCA 2006); Wells v. State, 807 So. 2d 206 (Fla. 5th DCA 2002).

A failure to conduct a hearing, or a summary or arbitrary denial of a petition, will result in reversal on appeal.  Kanji v. State, 4 So. 3d 65, 67 (Fla. 5th DCA 2009).

Legal Standard

In ruling on a petition to seal or expunge, the trial court must consider all the facts and circumstances  of the underlying case, and may not deny the petition based solely on the nature of the crime.  Cole v. State, 941 So. 2d 549, 550 (Fla. 1st DCA 2006); Godoy v. State, 845 So. 2d 1016, 1017 (Fla. 3d DCA 2003).

The analysis requires the court “to weigh the policy of public access to records against the long-standing public policy of providing a second chance to criminal defendants who have not been adjudicated guilty.”  State v. D.H.W., 686 So. 2d 1331, 1336 (Fla. 1996).

In the absence of a good reason for denial based on those facts, the petitioner is presumptively entitled to relief.   Maxwell v. State, 185 So. 3d 702, 704 (Fla. 4th DCA 2016).  It is an abuse of discretion to deny a petition without a legally sufficient factual basis.  Baker v. State, 53 So. 3d 1147, 1148 (Fla. 1st DCA 2011).

Court Discretion Not Unlimited

Although Sections 943.059 (sealing records) and 943.0585 (expunging records) provide that “any request for [sealing or expunction] . . . may be denied at the sole discretion of the court,” this statutory authority is not unlimited, and requires specific factual findings.

  • Maxwell v. State, 185 So. 3d 702, 704 (Fla. 4th DCA 2016); Pulcini v. State, 949 So. 2d 1150 (Fla. 3d DCA 2007) (reversing a trial court’s denial of a petition where the trial court ruled in a conclusory manner that the public interest outweighed the defendant’s individual interest in sealing a record); Anderson v. State, 692 So. 2d 250 (Fla. 3d DCA 1997).

Denials Based on Nature of the Crime

A trial court commits reversable error where it denies a petition to seal or expunge on grounds based solely on the nature of the charge.  Godoy, 845 So. 2d at 1017; Oymayan v. State, 765 So. 2d 812, 814 (Fla. 1st DCA 2000).

Denial Based on Prior Leniency

A court may not base a denial on grounds that a defendant received a withhold of adjudication, or other “breaks” or leniency in the criminal justice system.  Cole v. State, 941 So. 2d 549, 550 (Fla. 1st DCA 2006); Anderson, 692 So. 2d at 254.

Denial Based on Alternative Relief

A trial court may not deny a petition to expunge or refuse to exercise court discretion on grounds that alternative relief has been provided.  Thus, it is error to enter an order sealing a defendant’s record instead of ruling on a petition to expunge.  Steinmann v. State, 839 So. 2d 832 (Fla. 4th DCA 2003).

Requirement of Written Order

The denial of a petition to seal or expunge requires the trial court make specific factual findings within a written order outlining the basis for the court’s decision.  Kanji, 4 So. 3d at 67 (reversing and ordering the court to grant the petition or outline the specific facts and circumstances supporting denial); Fisher v. State, 20 So. 3d 1032, 1033 (Fla. 2d DCA 2009 (reversing and ordering the trial court to grant the petition or enter a written order setting forth the reasons for denial); Cole, 941 So. 2d at 551.

Contact an Attorney

If you are seeking to seal or expunge a criminal record, or believe you have been denied on improper grounds, contact Hussein & Webber, PL for a free consultation.  We handle seal and expunge cases in counties throughout the State of Florida.