You’ve heard the saying “crime doesn’t pay” before. Not only can a criminal charge result in jail time, fines, probation, and legal costs, but a criminal record can follow you around for a lifetime. Future employers and landlords will ask about a criminal history for liability reasons, and by law you must inform them of any of your previous charges. A criminal history, even if you are a first-time offender, will bar you from potential job prospects, mortgage applications, and even apartment rentals. However, you don’t have to live with the criminal charge for the rest of your life with a legal process called expungement.
What is Expungement and Why is it Important?
Expungement sounds like some strange and difficult legal process, but trust that it can be a lifesaver. Expungement happens when the finding of guilty in a charge is annulled, vacated, or withdrawn. Essentially, it can seal your arrest and conviction record permanently and keep it from impeding on the rest of your life. Expungement laws were put into place in order to incentivize rehabilitation, add incentives for acceptance of plea bargains, and keeping the punishment of the offense in proportion with the degree of the crime. The laws also allow rehabilitated citizens to integrate back into society. The general need for expungement is greater than ever as our society runs more and more background checks as concerns of security and safety skyrocket. The availability of such reports has significantly increased as businesses now only have to pay an affordable fee to receive them. After your records have been expunged, you are allowed to legally deny that you were ever arrested, even to employers, higher education campuses, and landlords. It’s as if they never happened. Expungement offers a fresh start by virtually erasing criminal charges from your record and makes them unavailable to almost everyone.
Who Can Still See My Record?
In some jurisdictions, your expunged conviction will still be accessible to certain law enforcement, government agencies, licensing boards, or sentencing judges, but not to the general public. However, if you plan on applying for a position in public office or any job that requires a high security clearance, you are obligated to confess to your expunged crime. This rule also extends to anyone who wants to enlist in the military. If you fail to reveal your expunged record when applying to the Armed Forces, then you will be immediately disqualified and may even be liable for fraudulent enlistment. Lastly, if you are being questioned under oath, you must not deny the charge. For the most part, though, you’ll go through your day-to-day life with as someone with a clean criminal record.
Am I Eligible for a Fresh Start?
The considerations a judge takes in processing your expungement request can vary, if your conviction is viewed as minor or as a relatively inferior crime, you can often qualify for expungement. You may be required to fulfill the following to be expunged:
- Wait a specified amount of time after your conviction
- Not exceed a specified amount of prior incidents (individuals with several prior convictions are not likely to be expunged).
- Completed your sentence or probation, or paid any fines without incident
- Be charged with a minor or inferior crime (If you were convicted of a crime such as rape, sexual battery, a felony or first degree misdemeanor in which the victim was a minor, or any federal crime, you can kiss chances of expungement goodbye. Also, immigrants cannot have their crimes expunged.)
- Any other requirements within your jurisdiction
In Texas, you can easily expunge records of your arrest if you were found not guilty or if the crime was a class C misdemeanor if you received deferred adjudication. Deferred adjudication is simply a plea deal in which the defendant pleads “guilty” or “no contest” in exchange for reduced punishments like community service, probation, or rehabilitation programs. Once you’ve completed deferred adjudication, you can get your charge expunged or get an Order of Nondisclosure.
What About Juvenile Offenses?
People who were convicted in juvenile courts may have an easier time in general with expungement. Once the person has reached the age of 17/18 and hasn’t committed any other crimes and has stayed out of trouble with the law, many states automatically require expungement of juvenile records when kids reach a certain age. These laws are to allow kids have a fresh start when they become an adult and protect them from the negative effects of their criminal record follow them around for the rest of their life. In Texas, typical charges that minors can get expunged are any misdemeanors that are punishable by fine, crimes committed under the Alcoholic Beverage Code, and crimes committed for Failure to Attend School under teh Texas Education Code.
How Do I Get It? Do I Need A Lawyer?
Every state has laws in place that allows citizens to expunge their records. In Texas, chapter 55 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure contains all of the procedures and requirements to expunge your records. However, you should contact a licensed attorney who has experience in expungement and knows how to navigate the statute. Note that you can get additional information petitioning for expungement by approaching the county’s criminal court in which the arrest was made.
Every jurisdiction requires you to to first complete your sentence. This means you need to have fully paid all associated fines, served all jail time, completed probation, taken all of the court-appointed classes, and must not have been convicted of another crime during rehabilitation. All punishments associated with the crime need to be completed, and you should be in good standing with the court.
Then, you must draft a file a motion in order to ask to reopen your case and change the finding to “not guilty”. This is another instance where a lawyer will come in handy. If you have multiple convictions, each one must be filed separately. The rest depends on the jurisdiction that you were convicted, but in Texas, expungement laws can be complex and difficult to navigate without an attorney. You are not required to have an attorney to pursue expungement, but they can be helpful in guiding you through the process.