Expungement in Texas: Everything You Need to Know
Some of us make mistakes in this life, and some of these mistakes can follow us for years. A criminal record, for example, can truly affect the opportunities that you are granted later on in life. Criminal history, even without a conviction, can affect your insurance rates, credit, employment, and reputation in your community.
Sometimes this isn’t fair. Maybe you made a mistake in your younger years that you’ve learned from. Or maybe you were found innocent of the crime, and are shocked to still see that the arrest is on your criminal record.
No matter the case, many individuals hope to clear their criminal records and move forward with their lives. This can be done through a process known as expungement or non-disclosure. Read on, and our San Antonio criminal defense attorneys walk you through everything you need to know about expungement in Texas or non-disclosure of your record.
Understanding Expungement in Texas
In Texas, filing an expunction petition is a process that legally removes an offense off an individual’s criminal history file. An expunction will force state agencies and private companies to remove references to your arrest in their electronic files and to destroy any hard files related to your arrest. There are different ways to become eligible for expungement in Texas, but they usually require you to have your case dismissed or to be acquitted (found “Not Guilty”) by a jury. Expunctions can be granted soon after a case ends or even months or years later.
Many different kinds of crimes are eligible for expungement in Texas. Even sex offenses can be expunged. However, an expunction may only be obtained for Class C Misdemeanors without a conviction (including dismissal through deferred adjudication or deferred disposition), when no formal charges are brought (offense never indicted), the charges have been dismissed, after successful completion of a Pre-Trial Diversion program, a jury acquitted you, you receive a pardon, or a court of appeals enters an acquittal on your record.
Depending on how your case closed, there are different waiting periods. For pardons, acquittals by an appellate court, or after a “Not Guilty” jury verdict, there is no waiting period. In fact, if you win a jury trial, then the Texas will waive your filing fees and allow you to use an expedited process to clear your criminal history. Otherwise, you must, generally, wait one year for a misdemeanor and 3 years to expunge a felony.
How Much Will an Expungement Cost in Texas?
Generally, expunctions cost around $600 just in filing fees and service of process costs. Your legal fees for a San Antonio expungement lawyer can easily exceed $3,000. However, you can expunge more than one arrest at the same time in a single petition, assuming the arrests are each eligible. Expunctions are well worth the expense, however, as they can increase your earning potential and bring greater peace of mind.
After expunging your criminal history in Texas, you are legally allowed to deny that you were ever arrested in employment applications and other contexts. In fact, it is a crime to knowingly reveal information subject to an order for expunction in Texas. It’s also a crime to knowingly fail to destroy that information. There are civil law penalties, too. Expungement is powerful and effective in giving accused persons a fresh start.
Sealing of Records and Nondisclosure
Even if you are not eligible for full expunction, there may still be hope for your case. You may still be eligible for an order of nondisclosure, sometimes called “sealing your record” in Texas.
When you obtain expunction, your criminal records are essentially destroyed. The charges become largely untraceable. With an order of nondisclosure, the records still exist but are harder for to access. Civilian employers, for example, won’t be able to see your criminal history.
Texas law also allows you to file a nondisclosure petition if you have completed deferred adjudication probation, even for most felony cases. In Texas, deferred adjudication is a type of plea agreement in which the defendant agrees to community supervision (“probation”) and the court dismisses the case if the defendant successfully finishes the probation.
Recent changes to Texas non-disclosure law allow some people to seal their criminal history even with a conviction. For example, first time DWI offenders may request non-disclosure of their DWI conviction if they have no other criminal history.
Having your record sealed can still provide many of the benefits of expunction. When a record is sealed, only a small group of government agencies and entities will be able to see your criminal profile. To the public eye, your criminal record will have been essentially scrubbed clean.
However, there are some crimes that will always appear in a criminal context in Texas. These include kidnapping, murder, sex or family violence crimes, and stalking. If you’ve been charged with these crimes, you will have a very difficult time trying to have them removed or hidden from your record.
If you were a minor when you were convicted of a crime, you have a much stronger chance of having your record sealed. Judges are usually more lenient toward minors in a court of law.
How Long Does It Take?
There’s no reason you wouldn’t want a damaging arrest off your record as quickly as possible. But the legal process involved in expunction and non-disclosure does take a little time. Calculating your waiting period is a fairly technical process. Using our first time DWI example, again, that person would have to wait either two years or five years to request a seal on their record, depending on whether or not they did probation with a “deep lung breath test device” (“ignition interlock”) for at least six months. Calculating your date of eligibility can be tricky even for experienced expungement attorneys.
A hearing appointment will usually take at least 30 days after a request, generally longer. If your petition is granted, agencies can take up to 12 months to destroy the records, but are must quicker to seal them. However, if you need an expunction or seal faster, then let your lawyer know.
Typically, you should expect an expunction to take 60-90 days before your record begins to clear up in background checks. Non-disclosure can be almost immediate, but some private companies may not update their records without being specifically informed of the order.
Getting your criminal record or writing a non-disclosure order can be a complicated and confusing process. But you can provide the best opportunity to get the date of your hearing as soon as possible by working with an experienced lawyer.
Some individuals require an expunction or order of nondisclosure in order to better search for employment, get married, or do a number of important tasks, or repair credit. The sooner the legal process begins, the better chance an individual will have with returning to or getting on with their lives.
Deferred Adjudication Judgments
If you successfully completed a diversion program to which you were referred to after prosecution, you might be eligible for expunction. This includes many person completing Veterans’ Treatment Court or other specialty courts.
However, persons sentenced to a deferred judgment qualify for expunction only for Class C misdemeanors. Individuals who have received a deferred adjudication for Class B offenses or higher or felony offenses at any level are not eligible for expunction.
Although, they still may be able to seal their criminal records through a non-disclosure order. A deferred adjudication or judgment isn’t the end of the road for a case, but you’ll definitely want legal counsel to plan for what you need to do next.
Expunge Your Record
We have all made mistakes that deserve tolerance. For many citizens, exploring expungement in Texas is a way to get a second chance and get their lives back on track. For others, it’s a way to restore justice for wrongs done in the past.