Houston Criminal Law Blog


Expungement: Removing Crimes from Public Records

Criminal charges and convictions tend to follow individuals long after the case and sentencing period end. A criminal record can affect job prospects, a professional reputation, and personal relationships. Certain charged and convicted criminals can petition for the expunction of felony and misdemeanor arrests.


What Do Background Checks Reveal?

Anyone can run a background check on an individual to learn more about them. Some parents do so before they hire a nanny or gardener. Certain government agencies, employers, lenders, and rental organizations may all use background checks to learn more about a person. Unfortunately, a distant arrest or conviction may prevent otherwise capable individuals from living their lives.

A background check will reveal all arrests that happened in the last seven years and every conviction. It will not reveal any arrests that happened over seven years ago and any expunged criminal records.

What is Expungement or Expunction?

The terms expungement and expunction both refer to the process of removing and/or destroying arrest information in public records. Individuals who were arrested but not convicted, those who were convicted and then pardoned, or those who accepted a deferred adjudication arrangement may qualify for this type of criminal record removal.

Skipping bail, violating probation, and otherwise failing to comply during the legal process may hurt an individual’s ability to obtain record expungement. An individual must wait to file a petition at least 180 days after the arrest for the expungement of class C misdemeanors, one year for class A and B misdemeanors, and three years for felony offenses.

To petition for expunction, the state of Texas recommends consulting with an attorney. The process takes time and petitioners must meet all deadlines and provide all relevant information to obtain the expungement. Improperly filed requests can lead to partial expungement, which may cause employment and other problems in the future.

During a formal expungement hearing, the courts will determine whether or not to grant expungement. If granted, the petitioner must submit a copy of the expungement to all relevant government agencies to ensure full record removal. Once completed, an individual does not need to disclose prior arrests to potential employers or government bodies.

Nondisclosure: An Alternative to Expungement

In addition to expungement, individuals who complete the terms of deferred adjudication (a form of plea deal) may qualify for an order of nondisclosure. Unlike expungement, a nondisclosure order will not delete or otherwise destroy information in a criminal record. Instead, the order seals the records to prevent criminal justice organizations from disclosing the information in public records. Certain offenses never qualify for orders of nondisclosures, including offenses that require sex offender registration and/or involve family violence.

Before petitioning for a nondisclosure order, an individual must wait five years from the time of discharge for a felony offense. An individual must wait two years from the time of discharge before filing a petition for misdemeanors under Texas Code Chapter 20, 21, 22, 25, 42, and 46 including assault, indecent exposure, criminal possession, cruelty to animals, corpse abuse, and bigamy. For minor misdemeanors, the state does not enforce a waiting period.

To receive an order of nondisclosure, an individual must file a petition with the court. The state may or may not require a hearing before issuing the order. Legally, obtaining an order of nondisclosure enables individuals to keep all information related to an offense private. Some organizations may still see a record of deferred adjudication, but records will also show the issuance of a nondisclosure order. The order can significantly improve an individual’s job prospects after a criminal case.

Juvenile Record Sealing

For offenses involving minors, the state offers certain automatic and petitioned record restrictions. Texas may automatically restrict record access for individuals who turn seventeen, who were not violent or serial offenders, and who were not tried as adults. The state may, however, remove all record restrictions if an individual commits a serious crime as an adult.

Juveniles and their representatives may also ask the state to permanently seal criminal records. Texas may grant permanent sealing for misdemeanor cases if a minor was not convicted of other offenses and does not face additional pending charges. A minor must wait two years from the end of the case to petition for a misdemeanor record seal. For felony offenses, an individual may qualify for record sealing if he or she is 19 or older, was not tried as an adult, and has not obtained a conviction for an additional felony since turning 17.

Certificates of Actual Innocence

Those who were wrongfully arrested for a crime can take the expungement process one step further in some cases. A Certificate of Actual Innocence is a type of expungement that removes or erases public records of an offense and tells the world that the records should never have been made. This immediate form of expungement frees a petitioner from the record without giving notice to individual agencies. The expunction is complete and automatic.

Pursuing Record Expungement and Nondisclosure Orders

While the state does not require individuals to hire an attorney, a legal representative may expedite and oversee the process for complete record handling. At every step of the way, questions, delays, and miscommunication can forestall the record sealing and removal process. The process takes time, but can significantly improve someone’s job outlook and quality of life. Those who have changed and played by the rules deserve an opportunity to start over without the shadow of an arrest or conviction hanging over them.

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