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A Florida Pardon Does Not Grant a Petitioner Eligibility for Expungement

R.J.L. v. State
Supreme Court of Florida
November 18, 2004

Holding: In Florida, a pardon does not have the effect of erasing guilt so that a conviction is treated as though it had never occurred, and thereby does not allow a former convicted petitioner to expunge his or her criminal records.

Why This Case is Important: Section 943.0585 of the Florida Statutes governs Florida expungement law. Section 943.0585 requires that the petitioner obtain a certificate of eligibility of expungement from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). A certificate of eligibility will be issued to individuals who meet the requirements of the statute; one of these requirements is that a petitioner should not have been convicted of their offense.

A convicted petitioner will be disqualified from obtaining a certificate of eligibility. As a result, the convicted petitioner is not eligible for criminal record expungement.

This case discusses the effects of a pardon, and whether the removal of penalties and disabilities that result from a granted pardon will allow convicted petitioners to expunge their criminal records. Pardons granted by the governor have the effect of restoring a defendant's civil rights, and removing the penalties and disabilities attached as a result of the conviction. A string of case law establishes that pardons serve to blot out the existence of guilt, such that the defendant is innocent in the eyes of the law.

Naturally, a petitioner who is pardoned will argue that he is eligible for expungement under Florida law. Florida law states that one who is not convicted of a crime may be granted a certificate, and a pardon seemingly has the effect of erasing the petitioner’s conviction.

However, the Florida Supreme Court in this case noted that there existed other authorities that established pardons do not erase the fact that a conviction occurred. Indeed, many states recognize that although a pardon erases the penalties and disabilities of a conviction, they do not erase the historical fact that the petitioner was convicted of his crime.

Through analysis of case law and statutory construction, the Florida Supreme Court concluded that pardons do not erase the fact that the petitioner was adjudicated guilty, and because Florida expungement law is granted to only those who have not been adjudicated guilty, then the convicted, yet pardoned petitioner, is still ineligible for expungement.

Facts of This Case: In 1953, petitioner in this case was convicted of kidnapping without ransom. The Governor subsequently granted him a full and complete pardon. In 2000, the petitioner applied to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for a certificate of eligibility so that he may have his records expunged. The Department denied the application on the grounds that the petitioner had been adjudicated guilty of his offense, and was therefore ineligible for criminal record expungement. The petitioner subsequently filed in circuit court for relief.

The circuit court sided with the state and held that a pardon did not qualify a convicted petitioner for expungement. The First District Court of Appeal also concluded that a pardon did not have the effect of making the petitioner eligible for expungement. Upon further review, the Supreme Court of Florida held that a pardon did not have the effect of completely erasing the history of conviction, and thereby did not qualify the petitioner for expungement.

In coming to its conclusion, the Court examined conflicting case law where one line of cases established that a pardon completely wiped away the petitioner’s guilt, making him eligible for expungement, while another string of cases established that although a petitioner’s penalties and disabilities were lifted, a pardon did not qualify a petitioner for expungement. The Court stated although cases diverged on this issue, many states have consistently held that a pardon does not erase the historical fact that a conviction happened.

The Court adopted the premise that a pardon did not erase the fact that a conviction happened. The Court held that because the petitioner was adjudicated guilty in the past, regardless of the pardon, he was ineligible for expungement under Florida Law.

As a result, the Court concluded those who receive a pardon are not entitled to a certificate of eligibility. The Court thereby affirmed the district court and circuit court’s decisions. ±

Key Language: A pardoned individual cannot satisfy the constitutional requirements of section 942.0585(2), because like other convicted individuals, a pardonee cannot maintain that he has not been adjudicated guilty of, or adjudicated delinquent for committing, any of the acts stemming from the arrest or alleged criminal activity to which the petition to expunge pertain.

Expert Advise: “Florida strictly follows the requirements of its expungement law. Although a pardon will erase a defendant’s penalties and disabilities, it will not erase the fact he or she was adjudicated guilty. Because of this adjudication of guilt, such a petitioner is disqualified from expungement relief.” -Attorney Mathew Higbee.

To read about more cases that help to define record clearing relief laws click here.

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