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Bill on Governors Desk Would Seal Millions of Criminal Records

June 6th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Two point Seven million criminal records in Florida could soon be sealed to the public under legislation awaiting action from the Governor.
Defense attorneys love the idea while public records advocates worry it goes too far.
In this country, people accused of a crime are considered innocent until proven guilty.
But in this  internet age, once someone is arrested, many have found themselves presumed guilty.
That’s because websites that publish mugshots charge arrestees to remove their mug even after being found not guilty.
“If they pay one, how many are they going to continue to have to pay to have their picture off,” said Tallahassee Criminal Defense Attorney, Lee Meadows.
Originally, the bill sought to prevent websites from charging to remove arrest photos.
But the legislation morphed into an automatic, sweeping closure of arrest records people found innocent of a crime.
Open government activists say acquittal doesn’t mean not guilty.
“Many people who are acquitted or charges are dropped because the witness refuses to testify,” said Barbara Petersen with the First Amendment Foundation.
Attorney General Pam Bondi says the sealing of those records could be detrimental to future cases.
“Especially the sex offenders because we all know how difficult it is to convict a sex offender,” said Bondi.
There is also a fear that Sealing the records could make it difficult for prospective employers to know who they are hiring.
“You go to the FDLE background check page, that person wont be listed,” said Petersen.
Famed Trial Lawyer Bill Sheppard makes the case that with the internet, noting is ever sealed.
“A month later somebody will send you a note that says for $400 more we’ll really get it sealed, but it’s in the public domain,” said Sheppard.
Charging files of those found not guilty would still be public record accessible through county courthouses, but to get that information you would need to know what county in which the person was charged.
Governor Rick Scott has until June 20th to sign the bill into law, veto it or let it become law without his signature.

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