One of the most detrimental consequences of a brush with the law remains in effect long after your sentence is complete: having a criminal record.
Fortunately, in many cases, you can have your criminal record expunged or sealed from public view. This means it will no longer show up on criminal background checks. The expunction process, however, does require working with the court system, which in most situations is arduous and time-consuming. This scares many people off.
This is actually a common misconception about expunction, though. In many cases, your hearing date is set within only 30 days.
We’ve put together a guide covering Texas expunction law, including which offenses are eligible for expunction and when, and how the process works.
Texas Expunction Law: Is Your Criminal Record Eligible?
Even if you were never convicted of an offense, your arrest and court records will still show up on a criminal background check. Fortunately, these records are eligible for expunction under the following circumstances:
- Your case went to trial, and you were acquitted
- You were charged, but the case was dismissed and the statute of limitations for that offense has expired
- You were convicted but subsequently pardoned or found to be innocent after the conviction
If you were arrested but never formally charged with a crime, you may apply for expunction after the following waiting periods (which begin the date of your arrest):
- Class C misdemeanor: 180 days
- Class A or B misdemeanor: One year
- Felony: Three years
Orders of Nondisclosure in Texas
If you were convicted of an offense, you may still be able to have your criminal record hidden through an alternative process known as an order of nondisclosure.
If you pled guilty or no contest and successfully completed your probation or diversion program, you are eligible to apply for expunction after the following waiting periods:
- Fine-only misdemeanors: No waiting period
- Serious misdemeanors: Two years
- Felonies: Five years
There are some offenses that are never eligible for an order of nondisclosure:
- Any offense requiring sex offender registration
- Aggravated kidnapping
- Sex trafficking
- Domestic violence
- Injury to a child, elderly person or disabled person
Getting your records expunged in the state of Texas is no easy task. The process is highly specific, eligibility requirements are stringent, and your petition requires focused planning and preparation.
If you intend to go through the process of expunction, preparation is critical. For you to win your case, you need to present everything exactly as requested, and in the correct way. With courts set to reopen soon, now is the perfect time to begin getting ready.
We’re going to cover a few of the things you can do to help you prepare for your hearing. First, we’ll examine who qualifies for an expunction. Then, we’ll go into what you need to have prepared and ready before your hearing date.
Who Qualifies For Expungement in Texas?
There is rigorous criteria for who qualifies for expungement in the state of Texas. The Texas Code of Criminal Procedure states that:
“A person who has been placed under a custodial or noncustodial arrest for commission of either a felony or misdemeanor is entitled to have all records and files relating to the arrest expunged if:
- The person was tried and acquitted
- The person was convicted but later pardoned
- The person was granted a pardon on the basis of innocence
- No charges have been presented against a person after an arrest during the required period of time
- The person has completed the required pretrial diversion programs
These are the most common reasons that a person can request expungement. If a person has been arrested, tried, and subsequently convicted, things get a bit trickier. In some cases, those with a criminal record are simply ineligible.
For questions about whether your criminal record may be eligible for expunction in Texas, reach out to an experienced Texas expunction attorney for answers.
How Can Qualified Texans Prepare for the Expungement Process?
There are nine basic steps to the process of expungement in Texas. Make each one count, and you’ve set yourself up for the best possible outcome.
- Step 1: Meet the legal requirements
- Step 2: Order copies of your criminal history record and order(s) of dismissal
- Step 3: Fill out court forms
- Step 4: Have your forms reviewed
- Step 5: File your petition.
- Step 6: Send a file-stamped copy of the Petition to the state prosecutor
- Step 7: Schedule a hearing
- Step 8: Go to the hearing
- Step 9: File (turn-in) the signed Order with the clerk
Include All Required Paperwork
The most important aspect of preparing for expunction? Getting every last bit of the paperwork required. This means getting your criminal history record and the dismissal papers. These can take time to acquire and must be properly certified before submission.
Hire an Experienced Legal Professional
You then need to fill out all of the forms and make sure all information is correct. At this point, it can be a good idea to consult with an experienced attorney who understands the expunction process. An attorney will know how forms should be filled out and can help streamline the process of submission. This will speed up the process of expunction overall.
Await Your Court Hearing
After all of the forms have been filled out, reviewed, and submitted, your attorney will schedule a hearing date. These types of hearings have been put on hold over the past few months in the state of Texas due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, with courts open again, hearings have resumed.
Texas Expunction Process and Time Frame
To apply for expunction, you will first submit a petition to the court where you were originally tried. A hearing date is then set, and if expungement is granted, an order of expunction will be sent to the arresting police precinct, courts, and any other agency involved in handling your case.
The timeline of the expunction process depends partly on you. If you work with an experienced attorney, it’s likely that the petition will go smoothly.
In this case, your court date will be scheduled within 30 days of filing the petition. Keep in mind, the actual appearance could take up to six weeks should the court be especially busy.
Many times individuals applying for expunction will inadvertently make mistakes such as filing the petition with the wrong office, or errors in filling out the petition itself. Other times, a petition for expunction is denied altogether. For this reason, we recommend having an experienced legal professional on your side.
If you have a criminal record, give yourself the much-deserved gift of a clean slate, which will allow you a fresh start in many aspects of your life. The expunction process is faster than you might think, especially if you have expert help.
About the Author:
Brandon Fulgham has an in-depth understanding of both Texas law and Texans themselves. Before practicing law here, he received his undergraduate degree from TCU and his law degree from South Texas College of Law in Houston. After graduation, he worked in District Attorneys’ offices as a prosecutor, building cases designed to put people behind bars. Now, he uses that knowledge to protect the rights of people in and around Fort Worth, making sure they receive the strongest possible defense when they find themselves on the wrong side of the law. He has been recognized for his work by The National Trial Lawyers, Fort Worth Magazine, and others.