Is An Expungement The Same As Getting Charges Dropped?

Disclaimer: This article is in response to questions frequently asked of Mr. Cobb and is an unedited dictation transcript. Just like talk to text on your smartphone, there may be misspelled words or sentence fragments.

Welcome back to Florida Criminal Law TV, our short series answering viewer questions. My name is Stephen Cobb and I am here to answer some more questions that people have been asking. And our next question in this series is when you expunge a record in Florida, is it the same as getting charges dropped? And the answer is no, not at all. It is completely different.

You have to have charges dropped, which means the state has filed either a no prosecution, a nolle prosequi, a judge has ordered them dismissed or they have been abandoned in some other manner. What that means is then your criminal case is over but the arrest information is still out there. So, I am going to go through what is the best practice for answering this particular question. And the best practice for answering this question is simply to say that’s really two separate things. One is yes, you want to get the charges dismissed or dropped or whatever you want to call it, whether by nolle pros, nolle prosequi whatever, you want those charges to go away if at all possible and you are a first offender with no prior record because once that is done, expungement, cleaning out the databases and government agencies such as law enforcement agencies, the state attorney’s office, the court system, that is a critical component. And you actually need three things. Let’s go through that.

Number one, you need some form of dismissal; number two, you need a record expunction, which erases the charge, but then three, you have got a problem in today’s social media internet world. An expunction does not help you when it comes to somebody randomly putting your name into a search engine to find out more about you. Many people have been surprised to get their charges dismissed or dropped, and then they get an expunction only to find out somebody sticks their name in Google and says, “Oh, this person has the criminal history, we are not going to hire them”.

Now, is an employer supposed to just stick people’s names in a search engine to find out about them and find out if they have the criminal history as part of a background check? No, they are not supposed to do it. Now, the reality is lots of them do it. So, the third thing you are going to need is digital eraser and that is something that is a little bit beyond the scope of the question but the short answer is getting a case dismissed or dropped is not the same as an expunction. And to add onto that, I recommend in every case where someone qualifies for expunction to do digital erasure. I recommend that you contact somebody like I would love to tell you that we can do the work that they do and tell you how much it will cost but the answer is that is not a legal set of issues, getting digital information on the internet, clear it out. So, once the legal part has been concluded obtaining some form of dismissal and an expunction has been done, either right before the expunction or after, I think, in my opinion, you should have contact with somebody like so that they can do digital erasure and clean out that negative internet information. Sometimes if they cannot clean it out, they can do a burial. What does that mean? Let me ask you a question. When you are using a search engine, do you ever go to page 2? Does anybody go to page 2? 99% of the time the answer is no. Burial of criminal information when you cannot get digital erasure, let’s say it is a domestic violence case where you are not going to get an expunction of charges even if you have a probationary sentence with no conviction, that cannot be expunged. But what they can do is they can bury it to where it shows up on page 137 of Google results when your name is put in instead of on page 1. And if nobody goes to page 2 for all practical purposes, nobody is going to page 137 and looking at the 8th result on the page.

So, either way, if you qualify for dismissal, whether by negotiation or court order or whatever and your record is going to be expunged or not, you still need to consider digital erasure. Now, I know my colleagues are not talking about this but I think for you or someone you love, all three components are very important.

Disclaimer: This article is in response to questions frequently asked of Mr. Cobb and is an unedited dictation transcript. Just like talk to text on your smartphone, there may be misspelled words or sentence fragments.