Anyone with domestic violence charges on record may not have his or her criminal record expunged or sealed in Florida.
In Florida, the working definition of domestic violence refers to any criminal offense that causes physical injury to, or the death of, a family or household member when perpetrated by another family or household member. False imprisonment, stalking, assault, battery and kidnapping all constitute domestic violence, and an offense may be classified as either a felony or a misdemeanor.
In the presence of aggravating circumstances — including serious bodily harm, stalking in defiance of an injunction, strangulation, or victim pregnancy — domestic violence charges become very serious felonies.
If you have been charged with domestic violence and choose to plead no contest, or if you enter a guilty plea to charges, you cannot expunge or seal your arrest record.
To keep your eligibility for expungement open, an experienced domestic violence defense lawyer should assist you. Do not go to court alone or enter your own plea without understanding the full ramifications of your choice.
In most instances, domestic violence charges are sent to a special domestic violence court division. However, in Polk County, Florida, the domestic violence court has been shut down, which means that any cases of this nature are now sent to criminal trial divisions.
If you are arrested for domestic violence, you will be held in custody without bond until you appear in court for the first time. The court may mandate that you have no contact with the alleged victim as a condition of your bond. If you violate that order, your bond may be revoked, and you may remain in jail until your case is resolved. If you have a criminal defense lawyer representing you, he or she may be able to file a Bond Motion asking the court to modify or remove that condition.
Many individuals charged with domestic violence want to know what happens if an alleged victim does not want to pursue the charges filed or if he or she signs a Waiver of Prosecution. State attorneys (also called prosecutors) may file charges and pursue prosecution even when there are no physical signs of abuse and the case is operating on the word of the alleged victim. If you have a skilled attorney assisting you, he or she can contact the prosecutor and outline why the alleged victim does not wish to press charges, and why it would be in the best interests of all not to file charges or prosecute. Such a consultation may even end in dropped charges.
Do not go to court and plead no contest or guilty without the advice of a criminal defense attorney. If you do, you cannot expunge or have your domestic violence record sealed — even if the court ultimately withholds adjudication. Your plea becomes a matter of public record, which may affect your employment or promotion prospects in the future.
A domestic violence arrest will only be expunged from records if the charges against the alleged perpetrator are dropped. In almost all cases, only a criminal defense attorney, who works to have the charges dismissed, is able to achieve such a result.
In order to dismiss the charges, your attorney may be able to have you placed into a diversion program (rather than enter a guilty plea). If you complete the program and domestic violence counseling, your charges are dropped, allowing you to expunge your record.
If you are charged with a criminal offense, you are entitled to a vigorous defense to maintain your reputation.