In the case of VFD versus the State of Florida, the issue was whether a judge correctly denied VFD’s (these are the person’s initials) petition to expunge his criminal record without first hearing evidence and then stating specific reasons for denying the motion.
The relevant facts in this case are that VFD filed a petition to expunge all criminal history information in the custody of any criminal justice agency and the official records of the court documenting his arrest for the charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. The opinion states:
“When the hearing began, [VFD] was the first witness. After he had answered two questions, the [judge] interjected: ‘Let me stop you for a moment. If I recall it was not that the [prosecutor] believed he was not eligible, there was some factors they wanted to present, so let me hold off on his testimony because I don’t think anyone denies that he’s eligible. Let me hear from the [prosecutor] and let you respond after they’re done.’ This brought to an end the evidentiary portion of the hearing.
[The prosecutor] told the court that the arrest occurred when VFD pointed a gun at an air-conditioner repairman in the course of an argument, that officers found the gun under the seat of a truck, and that the officers ‘also testified by their reports that this defendant was belligerent with them.’ The [prosecutor] represented that ‘it appeared from the reports that [VFD] had shot at someone in self-defense in April of 2008 which was about three months prior to this incident,’ and argued against expunging the records because ‘this is a type of case that could be used as William’s Rule if any future case were to come up with similar situations.’ The [prosecutor] told the [judge] that it ‘appears as if there was a witness who would testify this is what happened to him,’ and that ‘the police officers would have testified there was a gun.’
[VFD's lawyer] responded that the charges . . . were dropped, and that he could present the testimony of VFD’s wife, who was present during the incident, that VFD never pulled a gun. He also stated that he could put on evidence to prove that the April 2008 gunshot was fired in self-defense.
The [judge] spurned VFD’s offer to present evidence, stating, ‘I don’t think it’s my role at this point to determine whether that event in fact happened. My role is to determine whether it would be appropriate to preclude law enforcement from having access to this information should they need it in the future.’ The [judge] determined ‘based on the totality’ of what had been presented at the hearing that the records would be sealed, but not expunged, so that it could be determined at some later time whether it would be appropriate for law enforcement to have access to the records.”
VFD appealed the denial of his petition to Florida’s
The appellate court began by noting that “where a petitioner has satisfied all of the statutory requirements, [Florida law] gives the [judge] the discretion to deny expunction if there is a good reason for denial based on the facts and circumstances of the individual case.” But because of the absence of evidence supporting the prosecutor’s statements in VFD’s case, the judge had no specific factual basis to support her denial of VFD’s petition to expunge his record. The court of appeals stated that “[d]enial of VFD’s petition on grounds that the records, if not expunged, might–for reasons applicable in any case–prove useful in the future [was an insufficient reason to deny VFD's petition]. . . . The [judge] was alerted to factual disputes, including whether a gun was used during the incident that led to VFD’s arrest. No evidence refuted VFD’s version of events.”
As a result, the appellate court sent VFD’s case back to the lower-court judge and ordered her to hear evidence and to state specific reasons regarding why she was either granting or denying VFD’s petition.