Having a criminal record is one of the most inhibiting things that can happen to you. Regardless of how minor the crime, the consequences can affect your life for years in terms of being employable, acceptance to learning institutions and even finding accommodation. An expunction is a way of getting rid of your criminal record, and giving you the fresh start you might so badly need to rebuild your life.
What Is an Expunction?
An expunction (also sometimes called an expungement) is the act of getting your criminal records sealed and erased, deleted or destroyed wherever they exist in the justice system. Locations typically include the court, the clerk of the court’s office, the sheriff’s department, the prosecutor, the department of public safety, the police department and possibly the FBI. The expunction is meant to completely eradicate all copies of the records.
Your eligibility for expunction depends on a number of factors:
Conviction Status: If you’ve ever actually been convicted of a criminal offence, you aren’t eligible to apply for expunction. You’re eligible only if:
- The court withheld judgment in your case
- The charges were dropped
- You were acquitted in an appeal, or
- The case against you was dismissed.
You’re either cleared of the charges, you plead guilty or you’re convicted. Even if you are convicted years later of a completely different offence, you won’t be able to get any expunction if you have ever had a conviction.
Type of Crime: It’s easier to get an expunction for some types of crimes than others. For example, juvenile offenses or misdemeanors are considered less serious than other crimes. Also, certain crimes aren’t eligible for withholding of judgment. These include offenses such as DUIs, child molestation, prostitution and theft. Expunctions don’t apply to any of these types of crimes.
Progression of Sentence: In most cases, you must finish serving your sentence for a crime before becoming eligible to apply for expunction. In most cases, the sentence will consist of a probationary period and/or community service, and these must be completed before you’re able to apply. If you have a very good reason, however, you may be able to convince the judge to shorten your period of probation so you can apply for expunction earlier.
How Do I Get an Expunction in Texas?
So, how do you go about appling for an expunction once you’ve identified that both you and the crime are eligible for this process?
- The first thing you have to do is complete a Petition for Expunction form asking your district court to grant an Order of Expunction. You can do this yourself using forms available online from the Texas Bar Association, or you can hire a professional attorney in Texas to act on your behalf.
- Include with the form details of the offense, the case number, the name of the court, the date on which the case was resolved and the method of resolution, for example whether it was dismissed, deferred or acquitted.
- File the Petition with the appropriate court, which could be a municipal, county or district court depending on the level of the crime and the court where it was assigned originally.
- Prepare the Order of Expunction according to standard requirements ready for the judge to sign if the expunction is granted.
- Attend or be represented at the hearing scheduled by the court at which all the various agencies involved in the case have a chance to object if they wish.
- If the expunction is granted, present the draft Order for signature, and then send copies of it to all the agencies and organizations that might have your offense on record.
What Happens If the Expunction Is Denied?
If your petition for expunction is turned down, you might still be able to apply for a nondisclosure order, which means the record can be accessed only under particular conditions and by specific organizations. The process is similar and while it doesn’t completely remove the record, it does make it more difficult for private people and members of the public to obtain.
Can I Apply for an Expunction Myself?
The opportunity to apply for an expunction is the justice system’s method of ensuring that if mistakes are made, you have a chance to remedy them. It’s a complex process and any errors can have far-reaching consequences, however, you should so consider seriously whether you have the right legal understanding before deciding to do it yourself. The best way to find this out is to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney by calling 713-868-6100.