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Spring Cleaning (Your Florida Criminal Record)

Seal or Expunge your Florida Criminal Record

You can make your Florida criminal record TOP Secret under certain limited circumstances.

I get calls all the time from people who applied for a job, only to miss out on it because of an old arrest that shows up on their Florida criminal record from high school, college, or some other time in the distant or not so distant past. They often want to know how long an arrest stays on your Florida Criminal record. The short answer is forever, unless you do something about it. And some charges will stay on forever no matter what.Well, what can you do to fix that? It depends. According to Florida Law, as long as you have never been adjudicated guilty of anything, you have the ability to Petition the Court in the jurisdiction you were arrested to Seal or Expunge ONE INCIDENT in your lifetime from your Florida Criminal Record. It is rare, however possible, to seal or expunge two or more incidents if they are all inter-related in some way on your Florida Criminal Record. There are several exceptions and clarifications to this law.

First of all, sealing your Florida criminal record is basically just how it sounds. The Florida criminal record is sealed and only a very limited number of people and/or agencies have access to the information within the file. Expunging your Florida criminal record is theoretically like putting it through a shredder, although again, a limited number of people and/or agencies will have access to the fact that it existed. A Florida criminal record may be sealed if you are sentenced, but the Court withholds adjudication of guilt. If you are put on probation, you must wait an allotted period of time from the date probation ends until you are eligible. You may Petition to expunge your Florida criminal record if the charges are dropped or you are found Not Guilty at trial.

So, who are those limited people and/or agencies that will still have access to a sealed or expunged Florida criminal record? Well, law enforcement is supposed to have access to the information. Should you get arrested again, they will know that it is not the first time. Also industries who’s primary focus is working directly with children or the elderly will also have access to a sealed or expunged Florida criminal record. I think that this exception has been generally limited to schools and hospitals. Also, if you apply to the Florida Bar for a license to practice law, they will find out about your Florida criminal record – regardless of whether it has been sealed or expunged. There are a few other exceptions which can be found directly in the Florida Statutes. Unless the job you apply for falls under one of these exceptions, they will not have knowledge or access to a sealed or expunged Florida criminal record and you are not required to disclose.

There are certain crimes that are not eligible to be sealed or expunged. DUI is one of those charges. It will be on your record forever, no matter what – even if you are found Not Guilty at trial.

A lot of times, people don’t really think it is necessary to hire a lawyer for a simple misdemeanor charge like possession of alcohol under age, or criminal mischief. But if you are not careful and knowledgeable of the law, you may end up with a result that lasts forever.

In this day and age when jobs are scarce, it is probably a good idea to cleanse your record to put yourself in the best light possible. But remember to keep a copy of the file for yourself because if you need it for some reason in the future, you won’t be able to get it once it’s sealed or expunged.

Did You Know???

Did you know that carrying your prescription pills loosely in the bottom of your purse will probably get you arrested?

Always keep your prescription with you NO MATTER WHAT. Otherwise you will likely be booked for possession of a controlled substance without a prescription (usually a 3rd degree felony!), required to post a bond and hire a lawyer or miss work to go to court – just to show proof that you are innocent.

It’s a heck of a lot cheaper to just keep them in the bottle!

DON’T RUN! You Will Almost Gurantee Your Arrest


Running will almost always result in an arrest, even if you weren’t doing anything wrong before you ran.

Don’t run if a police officer is looking at or speaking to you. If they had any question about whether to arrest you, they won’t after you run!In December, the Florida Supreme Court held that the act of running from an officer in a high crime area is resisting arrest without violence (a first degree misdemeanor) – regardless of whether your behavior prior to flight was legal or might have resulted in arrest on its own.

In Florida, an officer can come up and talk to you and ask you for identification without any provocation. This is called a citizen encounter. Other than providing your ID, you are not required to say anything else unless you want to. If you are uncomfortable with the encounter, ask the officer if you are free to leave. If he says no, politely tell him you would like a lawyer before you answer any questions. He may continue his investigation, and he may or may not have enough to arrest you already, but he can’t ask you any more questions until your lawyer is present. If you cannot afford one, a public defender must be appointed upon your request for a lawyer -should the police wish to proceed. Be polite in complying with the officer’s requests. But know that you are never required to answer questions without the advice of counsel. If an officer has enough to arrest you, he will usually do so regardless of what you say. It is unlikely that any explanation you give will get you out of the situation, and if fact, usually makes his case stronger. Along the same lines, if an officer asks you for consent to search your property, YOU CAN SAY NO. If an officer has enough to arrest you, he will search you anyway without your consent.

Remember, you may be able to out run an officer, but you can’t out run the radio. They will catch you. Don ‘t give them a reason.

Boat Drinks

My good friend Captain Ken Hinsley of Patients Sportfishing in Miami, Florida called me to tell me (brag) that he would be taking out Jimmy Buffet on a sailfish charter during Super Bowl Week in Miami. As I sit here behind my desk wondering what strange twists of fate landed me here instead of there, I began thinking of the Florida Boating Laws (ok, not as exciting as a story about Jimmy reeling in sails, but this is a law blog, right?).

The truth is, even just in the last 10 years or so, there has really been an increase in boaters in and around Florida’s Treasure Coast. Most of them have no idea that there are actually both International and Inland Rules for Navigating vessels in and around Florida’s waters, and that not knowing them could result in a trip to the county jail. Professional captains often refer to them as the Rules of the Road.

Here’s the kicker: According to Florida Law, if you get in a boating accident and are found at fault for not complying with the navigation rules, YOU WILL BE CHARGED WITH A CRIME.

Think about that. If you get in a car accident for carelessly or negligently pulling out in front of someone, or running a red light, you get a ticket. A civil infraction. The most that can happen is you pay a fine, your license could be suspended if your driving record is horrible or for health concerns, and maybe your insurance goes up. If you cause an accident on the water, you could go to jail for up to 60 days for simple negligence. In my mind, that is crazy.

Generally speaking, in order to commit a crime, you must show an intent to act inappropriately. The only real exception (besides this) I can think of is the strict liability crime of having sex with a minor. It doesn’t matter whether you knew the person was a minor or not, and it doesn’t even matter whether that person lied to you and told you they were an adult. Well, ok, I could see the legislature’s intent in wanting to protect children. But boater’s negligence a crime? Really?

So I ask you, if you are driving your boat in the intercoastal, and another boat approaches from the left, who has the right of way? If you don’t know, you had better brush up on your Rules of the Road. Otherwise, you may find yourself posting a bond.

This law makes no sense and should be amended to make reckless boating a crime. Negligent boating should be a civil infraction. If you agree with me, shoot your legislator an email. It may not seem like a big deal now, but wait till your boat is surrounded by a swarm of wave runners. Whether you crash into the one on the right or left could make the difference. Does that make sense to you?

Finally, remember that boating under the influence is a crime just like driving under the influence. For many, beer and boats seem to go together like motorcycles and leather.

Be careful. Know the Rules of the Road, and always boat responsibly. Hopefully that will be enough to keep you out of jail.

Drugs + Alcohol = Problems!

One thing I have noticed over the past decade of representing clients in criminal court is the relationship between drugs and alcohol, and crime. While my observations are hardly scientific, it seems that generally speaking, most misdemeanor offenses involve alcohol – at least on the periphery. And most felonies involve drugs. Almost every domestic violence case that I have handled starts with a six pack of beer, or an officer’s observation of the smell of an alcoholic beverage on the Defendant’s breath, or bloodshot and watery eyes. Almost every theft is the result of a defendant’s need for cash – frequently, because it has already been spent on a drug bought off the street.

Another common problem is when a person has a psychological or physical disorder whether diagnosed or not, that is not properly treated. Often, the result is that person will take drugs off the street, or alcohol to “self medicate.” Even when people are prescribed medication to control the disorder, they sometimes fail to take the medication – or worse – take more than the dose that was prescribed. Each of these scenarios tends to get folks into trouble with the law.

Many times, the answer is simple. However, most of the time, a person with a substance abuse problem will not actually wake up to that fact until they have landed behind bars – in many instances, more than once.

If you feel like you or someone you know is falling into one of these patterns, reach out for help before it is too late. One local judge has commented often on the record that he finds it interesting how many people request help with substance abuse issues after they find themselves staring at a long period of time behind bars. Usually, a psychologist or psychiatrist can work with you, either by prescribing medication or sometimes by simply talking it out and helping you to change your everyday patterns and mode of thinking. There are groups everywhere that help people to beat addiction – However, they won’t find you, you must take the first step.

It seems that if you don’t address the issue head on, it is only a matter of time before you end up spending some time behind bars, or worse.

Drink responsibly. Don’t do drugs. In the end you will save money and often times, your freedom.

Holiday Tip #101

With the holiday season in full swing and a tight economy to begin with, one simple act can save you thousands in unexpected expenses. Save the phone number to a local taxi company into your cell phone contacts.

Getting a ride to and from holiday parties that will involve casual drinking reduces your chances of getting a DUI down to ZERO.

On the other hand, if facing a DUI in Florida, you would be looking at a maximum sentence of six months in the county jail for a first offense. You would be looking at a mandatory minimum sentence (the judge MUST impose in every case) which would include up to one year of probation to complete the following conditions: a $500.00 fine, plus court costs; attend and complete the DUI School and any recommended treatment; the victim impact panel; 50 community service hours; a 10 day vehicle impound; and most notably, a six month driver’s license suspension. The minimum fine and length of suspension can increase depending on whether a person takes a breath test and to what result.

On the Treasure Coast, as well as most parts of Florida, the loss of a driver’s license often makes finding and/or retaining employment difficult. Still, it’s not worth the risk to try driving while your license is still suspended for a DUI. If caught, you will almost certainly spend some time in jail.

Be smart. Get a cab. Enjoy the holidays.

RJ Ferraro III, Criminal Lawyer and Blog Author

RJ Ferraro, III, Stuart, Florida Criminal Defense Attorney

RJ Ferraro, III, has been a criminal defense lawyer serving clients in and around Florida’s Treasure Coast and the Palm Beaches since 2001.  His practices is focused on representing individuals charged with crimes in both State and Federal Court.  RJ has  handled everything from routine traffic tickets to capital felonies.

Despite the fact that the law is constantly changing, ignorance is never a defense. With that in mind, the purpose of this blog is to discuss the issues that continue to re-surface on a consistent basis, and to answer many of the simple questions that people charged with a crime often contemplate.

If you are charged with a crime, the attorneys of the Ferraro Law Group, PL in Stuart, Florida are here for you.

Contact the Stuart, Florida Criminal Defense Attorneys of the Ferraro Law Group, PL today to set up a free and confidential consultation.  We are available by phone at (772) 221-0600 or by e-mail to