Does Getting a Pardon from the Governor Automatically Mean That You Can Get Your Criminal Record Sealed or Expunged?

A pardon has been defined as “the forgiveness of crime and the penalty associated with it.”  In Florida, it is the governor who has the power to grant pardons.

Assuming you are fortunate enough to obtain a pardon, does that automatically mean that you can get your criminal record sealed or expunged?

That was the question decided by the Florida Supreme Court in the case of R.J.L. v. State of Florida.

In that case, an individual with the initials “R.J.L.” was convicted of kidnapping but was later granted a full pardon.  40 years after receiving that pardon, R.J.L. applied to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (“FDLE”) for a certificate of eligibility to have his criminal record expunged.  FDLE denied the application because according to Florida law, a person cannot get his record expunged if he was adjudicated guilty of the crime that he is applying to have expunged from his record.  When R.J.L. pointed out that he had been granted a full pardon, FDLE responded that the pardon did not remove the fact that he was adjudicated guilty of kidnapping and therefore legally ineligible to have his record expunged.  R.J.L. ultimately appealed to Florida’s Supreme Court.

The issue decided by the Supreme Court was whether R.J.L.’s pardon acted to eliminate his adjudication of guilt so as to make him legally eligible to have his record expunged.

Unfortunately for R.J.L. and for those in a similar situation, Florida’s Supreme Court sided with FDLE and against R.J.L.  In doing so, the Court stated: