17 January 2018
The Honorable Kamia L. Brown
Florida House of Representatives
402 South Monroe Street, Room 1402, The Capitol
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1300
Re: HB 919 Criminal History Records
Dear Representative Brown:
We are writing to express serious concerns regarding HB 919, which requires the Criminal Justice Information Program to administratively seal the criminal history records of minors charged with a misdemeanor or felony. These records would, regardless of any prior criminal conviction, be automatically sealed if the charges were eventually dropped or the person charged was acquitted or found not guilty at trial.
Under current law, expunction of a person’s criminal history record is allowed under specified conditions, and there is a statutory structure in place with clearly defined steps and legal requirements. All expunction applications are manually reviewed for compliance with those legal requirements. More importantly, a request for expunction can be denied after a manual review and expunction of a person’s criminal history record can occur only once, ensuring that repeat offenders cannot hide behind multiple expunctions.
Rather than an expunction, HB 919 requires an automatic administrative seal of all criminal history records regardless of any prior conviction(s). No application would be required, and no review of a person’s criminal history record would occur prior to the records being sealed. Additionally, HB 919 places no limit on the number of times a person’s criminal history records can or would be sealed.
As we know, there are a host of reasons for dropped charges, acquittals and findings of not guilty, such as lack of evidence or failure of a witness to appear. There are several troubling scenarios that could arise as a result of this bill becoming law. For instance, a person could be charged and tried one or more times for a lewd and lascivious act on a child and, if acquitted or found not guilty because of a lack of evidence, that person would not show up on FDLE’s criminal background check website. If that person then applies for a position with a school or day care center, that person would not be required to mention the past charges (as is required under current expunction statutes).
In another scenario, if a diligent employer wanted to run a background check prior to hiring someone, the employer would not be able to find any record on the FDLE website of whether the potential employee was charged and acquitted of stealing from a former employer, regardless of the basis for that acquittal. Moreover, because there is no limit on the number of times a person’s criminal history records can be sealed, it is entirely possible for a person who is tried multiple times for the same or similar crime to have multiple records sealed.
If this bill were to become law, it would create a process by which millions of criminal history records will be sealed. We believe that the automatic sealing of criminal history records is not only a dramatic shift in public policy, but also one that poses a serious and real threat to public safety.
Therefore, we respectfully request that HB 919 be withdrawn from further consideration.
Thank you for your attention to our concerns, Representative Brown. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Barbara A. Petersen, President
Cc: The Honorable Richard Corcoran, Speaker, Florida House of Representatives
Jon Kaney, General Counsel, First Amendment Foundation
Sam Morley, General Counsel, Florida Press Association