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West Palm Beach woman says mistaken arrest could impact her future

State Attorney's Office calls woman's arrest a 'mistake' as she fights to get mugshot, arrest details removed from public record
Posted at 5:15 PM, Oct 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-21 17:15:14-04

RIVIERA BEACH, Fla. — Melissa Hernandez was arrested last month with breaking into a home and stealing a gun and other items.

“I was mad, because I knew it wasn’t me,” Hernandez said after she was charged with breaking into a Riviera Beach apartment and stealing a handgun and valuable items, then locked up in the Palm Beach County Jail.

“I’ve been so stressed out about this because the words from the judge,” Hernandez recounted. “When I went in front of the bench, the judge said, 'these charges carry 30 to 40 years.'"

Those charges stem from the break-in in Riviera Beach in June.

The arrest warrant claims fingerprints at the crime scene belonged to a Melissa Hernandez born in 1987. The Melissa Hernandez who was arrested for the break-in was born in 1962.

“I got arrested for another Melissa Hernandez,” Hernandez said.

A month after her arrest, the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office dropped the charges.

In an email to Contact 5, State Attorney’s Office spokesman Marc Freeman wrote, "Unfortunately, the wrong person was arrested based on the information provided to us by the police. We dropped the case immediately after we found out about this mistake.”

Hernandez said she’s already paid a price, spending two nights in jail and losing four days pay.

“I struggle. Bad,” said Hernandez, who added the loss of work forced her to borrow money from her children.

Contact 5 ran a background check and found her arrest is still listed on the Palm Beach County court records, though at the bottom it indicates she wasn’t prosecuted.

And the sheriff's office still has her mug shot on its bookings website.

Hernandez worries it will impact her future employment and housing opportunities.

“I don’t want this on my record,” Hernandez said. “I didn’t do it.”

“I would believe Miss Hernandez could obtain what is called an administrative expungement of those records,” said Brian Gabriel, a Jupiter attorney who has helped dozens of people get criminal cases removed from the public record.

Gabriel is not affiliated with the Hernandez case but said, in general, she can get her arrest and booking photo removed from public sites if those involved in her initial prosecution agree to it.

“I would believe the state attorney and law enforcement would probably work with her to have this occur,” Gabriel said.

Freeman told Contact 5 by phone, “If Ms. Hernandez applied for administrative expungement, our office would certainly consider and review it.”

But Riviera Beach's police chief won’t say if the department is ready to call Hernandez’ arrest a mistake. The charges were dropped last week.

“We’ve been made aware of an allegation," said Chief Josh Lewis. “We’re looking into it. And once we get the results, we’ll provide the results of it.”

“I’ve had a rough life,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez admits her own drug-related crimes set her back in the past. But she’s had no convictions for almost 20 years and fears more setbacks with last month’s arrest on her record.

“For once in my life, I can honestly say, I didn’t do this," Hernandez said.

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