Tallahassee Democrat Editorial
May 1, 2017
We urge Florida Gov. Rick Scott not to sign a very dangerous bill blocking public records access to certain criminal history information of those involved in misdemeanor and felony cases.
Senate bill 118 is another attempt by the Florida Legislature to take away the public’s lawful right to know – because criminal records can be sealed on the condition charges are not filed against a person, if the case is dismissed before trial or the person is acquitted or not found guilty.
Currently, there is a statuary process for expunging criminal history. There also are limitations on what can be expunged from a record. There would be no official process with this bill, filed by Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota. This bill allows for an automatic administrative seal of a criminal history record and does not put a limit on how many times that record can be sealed, no matter how many times a person faces charges.
The public is entitled to the criminal history based on current Florida law. Expunging a record must be done through a specific process. A blanket seal means that criminal history will never be available, as it is now, on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement website. Concealing information from the public jeopardizes the ability of the media and public to have access to those who may be repeat offenders or getting to the truth of someone who may have been wrongly accused of a crime and exposing why the person may have been wrongly accused.
The fact this bill was amended at the last minute, on the Senate floor and right before the vote, to include the sealing of records, without much challenge or discussion, also is disconcerting. Steube was able to slip in this major change without much discussion or challenge. We wonder if any of the legislators were paying attention. What is equally upsetting is Steube would throw in this change after the bill had breezed through each of the required committees, and House and Senate votes, without much opposition. It passed the Senate 34-0 and the House 118-0. [READ MORE]