What is the difference between sealing and expunging a record?
Sealing a record means that a person's criminal history is closed off to outside inquiry. Prior to the digital age, this meant applying adhesive to a file so that it could not be opened. This is the basis for the term "sealing". The only way that the seal can be broken is with an order from a court.
Expunction of a record means that a person's criminal record is physically destroyed. This is the better option, but is more difficult to qualify for.
Do I qualify?
You are automatically disqualified from sealing your record if you have been adjudicated guilty of any criminal offense within the state. This includes felonies, misdemeanors, certain municipal ordinances, and certain traffic offenses. Even if you were not adjudicated guilty (adjudication withheld), you may not qualify for a seal if you committed an offense listed in Florida Statute 943.059. As long as neither of these apply, you qualify for sealing your record.
You are automatically disqualified from expunging your record if you have ever been adjudicated guilty or if you have ever had adjudication withheld. This means that unless you have had the charges dropped or abandoned, or you were found not guilty at trial, you do not qualify. There is a small exception that allows for a record to be expunged if you have successfully had your record sealed for 10 years.
I qualify, what do I do next?
If you qualify, you should download the seal/expunge packet from the FDLE website. You will need to get certified copies of any criminal record that you may have, a notarized certificate of eligibility, a $75 check made out to FDLE, a fingerprint card, and possibly a signed form from the state attorney (only for expunction). Assemble these documents and submit them to FDLE for processing.
How long will it take?
A seal/expunge can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. Recently FDLE has been backed up and processing has taken around 3-4 months.
Should I hire an attorney?
Maybe. An attorney will simply do the things listed above. That said, he or she will likely do it right the first time. I have seen many people make mistakes in submitting packets to FDLE that have resulted in lengthy delays. If you decide to undertake this process on your own, be sure to follow the instructions to a "T". If not, you may be better off paying an attorney to do so.