Having a criminal history puts people at a disadvantage in life. It can affect what kind of work they can do, where they can get a job, where they can live, insurance rates, access to credit, and all sorts of other rippling consequences. A conviction isn’t even necessary – sometimes an arrest is all it takes to be put at a disadvantage for years or decades to come.
These societal consequences may especially be unfair if someone who was never formally charged, was acquitted, or had their case dismissed must endure being treated as if he or she was convicted for the rest of their life. If you’re trying to move forward with your life but have been held back by a criminal record, it might not have to be like this forever. Clearing a criminal record in Texas, known as expungement, isn’t always easy – but it is possible.
The Expunction Petition
When someone is seeking expungement, they must first secure legal counsel to help them through this process. An attorney representing the person with a criminal history will file an expunction petition with the court, formally signaling a desire to remove an offense or incident from the individual’s criminal history.
If the expunction petition is successful, then it will compel the government and private entities to destroy any files associated with your arrest. This includes both references to you and your arrest in electronic files as well as the destruction of any hard-copy files wherever they may be located.
The Limits of Expungement
Unfortunately for many, expungement won’t be possible. It’s only available to those who were arrested and even tried in some cases, but not to those who were convicted of a crime.
As of 2021, the following types of criminal records can be expunged in Texas:
- Arrest records that did not lead to formal criminal charges
- Dismissed criminal charges where the statute of limitations has elapsed
- Some juvenile misdemeanors
- Arrest records associated with certain acquittals
- Convictions if they were overturned on appeal for actual innocence or were pardoned
- Class C misdemeanors, but only after a successful deferred adjudication
If someone was arrested, they must wait to have their criminal records expunged – even if they were never formally charged. Note the waiting periods below:
- 180 days for Class C misdemeanors
- One year for Class B and Class A misdemeanors
- Three years for felonies or for any misdemeanor arrest that included a suspected felony
Sealing Records & Nondisclosure: An Alternative to Expungement
If you are not eligible for a full expunction, you may qualify to have your records sealed through an order of nondisclosure. Whereas your criminal record is destroyed in an expungement, it still exists when it is sealed but remains much harder to access. A civilian employer, for instance, won’t be able to view your criminal record when you obtain an order of nondisclosure.
It may be possible for those with certain convictions, such as a first-time DWI offense, to have their adult record sealed. If someone has completed probation for deferred adjudication, then nondisclosure can also be granted – even for felonies.