Anyone who has been charged with a criminal offense understands that a simple background check can be devastating. Florida has some of the toughest rules in the country to seal or expunge a criminal record. Even so, now that we live in the technology age, even a simple google search can bring back dark secrets of a past arrest. Worse still, some companies try to profit by charging a fee to remove the booking photo. Now the Florida Senate is seeking to expand the rights of those previously charged with a crime to help make removal of those records a little bit easier.
Senator Greg Steube, a Republican from Sarasota, has introduced Senate Bill 118. It has already passed through the Judiciary committee with a 9-0 vote, and through the Criminal Justice committee with a 5-2 vote. The legislation does two main things. 1) It expands the State’s sealing and expunging eligibility; and 2) It classifies charging a fee to remove a booking photo as an “unfair trade practice.”
When a record is sealed, the public will not have access to it, while government agencies can. When a record is expunged, government agencies do not even have access to that file without a court order. As it stands now, even if a Judge dismisses a criminal charge in the middle of trial due to lack of evidence, or a Defendant is found not guilty at trial, a case cannot be expunged, only sealed. This bill expands cases eligible for expungement to include when an acquittal is received at trial either by the Judge or the Jury. Additionally, as it stands right now, if one is adjudicated guilty of a criminal offense, even a misdemeanor long in the past, none of that individual’s criminal record can be sealed or expunged. This bill seeks to make it so if it has been 10 years since an individual has been adjudicated on a misdemeanor, it will not otherwise bar the applicant from getting a criminal offense sealed or expunged
The legislation also importantly ends the practice of allowing websites to charge a fee to remove a booking photo. If the website refuses to take down the photo for free after 10 days, one can sue the website civilly for up to $1000 per day that it does not remove the photo, plus attorney’s fees and costs. Nothing in the bill prohibits companies from creating these websites that collect booking photos, as just the practice of charging to remove a photo will be prohibited. However, by taking a bite out of these websites’ profits, they may become less common.
With strong bi-partisan support, it looks as though this bill will pass the Florida Senate. A similar bill has passed through Florida House committees as well. It appears that in just a few months it will be a little bit easier for one to remove their criminal record from public view.