If you have a criminal record with one or more convictions, it can hinder your career prospects, financial opportunities, and even ability to qualify for certain loans. Florida criminal law allows individuals, under certain circumstances, to have their criminal record sealed. A Florida court issued a decision, showing that both the applicant and the State have to follow statutory procedures before granting or denying a certificate of eligibility to seal a criminal record.In Lazard v. State, the defendant had a child in his care. During this time, the defendant struck the child with an extension cord. The State charged the defendant with aggravated child abuse, and he ultimately pled guilty to the crime of contributing to the dependency of a child, a misdemeanor. Later, the defendant made an application to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to seal his criminal record. The FDLE denied his request because his criminal history related to an act of domestic violence, which, according to the FDLE, rendered him ineligible for sealing his record.
Florida Statutes Section 943.059 outlines the procedures for having a criminal record sealed. In short, the applicant must first receive a certificate of eligibility from the FDLE and then file a petition to seal the record with the court. The court will conduct a hearing and evaluate evidence before making its determination. By law, the FDLE is obligated to issue a certificate of eligibility if the applicant meets the statutorily defined criteria.
The court observed that although the applicant met the criteria to receive a certificate of eligibility, the FDLE did not furnish him with the certificate. Instead, the court held that the FDLE should have followed the following procedure: (i) issue the certificate because the defendant satisfied the first prong of the criminal history sealing statute, and (ii) hold an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the defendant’s offense related to an act of domestic violence, which would have acted as a basis to deny his request to seal his criminal history. The court ruled that the FDLE’s refusal to issue the certificate without an opportunity to hold an evidentiary hearing was erroneous and overturned the FDLE’s ruling.