To understand how long it takes to expunge a case, let’s indulge in a fantasy. Imagine an American company makes Teddy Bears in an Orlando factory. The factory employs teenagers to sew the bears together and ship them out (unrealistic, because teenagers don’t work in factories, and we don’t have factories in Orlando, do we? No, cheesecakes don’t count).
At this imaginary factory, three employees do all the work. Cindy attaches the arms and legs. George attaches the eyes and ears. And, Bill puts the tag on, boxes up the bear, and ships bears to happy children everywhere.
How long does it take to make a teddy bear? That depends.
Let’s say you walk into this Teddy Bear factory and notice that Bill is sitting around twiddling his thumbs. He has no bears to bag and tag (as the coroners office would say). Why are there no bears to ship? Because George has 1,000 bears stacked up at his desk waiting for eyes and ears. It will take a week for George to catch up. This, my friends, is what we call a bottleneck. Now that we’ve refreshed your recollection of 9th grade economics, let’s dig deeper.
George’s backlog of a 1,000 bears points out the obvious: one weak link will slow down the whole chain of events. Lucky for us, every problem creates consultants devoted to solving such problems. In our example, expert bottleneck eliminators work under the guise of a “science” called the Theory of Constraints. These experts may tell our teddy bear factory to have Cindy stop her job of attaching legs and start helping George attach eyes & ears. After all, what’s the point of having Cindy add another bear to George’s 1,000 bear backlog? Or, they may have engineers redesign the teddy bear to make George’s eyes & ears process go more quickly. Either way, it’s inefficient to pay Bill to do nothing for a week as he waits for George to provide bears to ship.
Now, if you think private companies have processing problems, imagine asking the government to seal or expunge something.
Answering the question “how long does it take to expunge a case” is a lesson in bottlenecks. And, it’s bottlenecks all the way down.
An expunge involves three government agencies. In a perfect world, it would take one government entity a few days to expunge a case, but, adding a few more government agencies to the pot doesn’t mean it will take three times as long. It will take twenty times as long. We’re dealing with exponential inefficiency of the sorts only a government can concoct.
Side Note: this is similar to the Three Body Problem in physics, which states that science can calculate the movement of one isolated planet, and can even calculate what two planets will do–but once you have three masses acting on each other–we cannot calculate their exact movement. So, how did we get to the moon? I don’t know, but its hard to believe that physics has unsolvable stuff, right? Typically, unresolved problems are left to philosophy–but if you look at science really closely–you’ll discover all sorts of unsolvable problems. No certainty, just probabilities. Anyway, the same laws of physics found in the Three Body Problem apply to dealing with three government agencies. To understand why this is, I’ll distill the expunge process down to three easy steps, and identify each step’s time problems.
Step 1: The process starts with the State Attorney’s Office. They are required to sign off on the expunge application and without their signature–the process goes no where (you can seal without their signature, but not expunge). It can take several days to get their signature, or several months, but this is usually the shortest delay in the process. Figure two weeks on average to get the State to sign off. Once we have the State Attorney’s signature, we can move on to Step 2.
Step 2 involves the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). These folks are found all over the State of Florida, but for expunge purposes, we’ve got to deal with their office in Tallahassee. FDLE examines the expunge application signed by the prosecutors, they examine the certified disposition issued at the end of the case, and they examine the criminal background of the person asking to have their record expunged. This snooping around can take three to five months all by itself. Yes, you heard me. Step 2 is our #1 bottleneck, and there’s no easy way to speed up FDLE (unfortunately).
Step 3 involves getting the judge to sign the Order Granting the expunge. We can’t do this until FDLE issues their Certificate of Eligibility from Step 2, but the certificate is obtained, our law firm files three important documents with the Clerk of Court, the prosecutor, and the Judge’s office. The expunge is almost complete. The only thing standing in our way is the judge. Some judges require a hearing in court, but most don’t. Either way, Step 3 can take days, weeks, or months–depending upon the judge. Some judges want the prosecutor’s input before granting the expunge, and getting the State’s response can take weeks or months. A few judges have grown tired of waiting for the State’s response, so they’ll impose an artificial deadline, giving them 30 days to respond to our Petition to Expunge. If the judge hears nothing in that time, the judge will go ahead and grant the expunge without a hearing.
So, if you add up the three steps outlined above, you’ll come up with a figure of 3 to 6 months. Six months is what I tell most people, just to be safe.
And yes, I believe my law firm is the fastest firm out there, so if some lawyer tells you an expunge or seal can be accomplished within a month or so–hang up on them. They’ve obviously never done this before.