By: Mark Diaz
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What Is The New Expungement Law In Texas Passed In 2021?
Texas lawmakers enact new laws and amend existing statutes quite frequently, but one legislative update in 2021 might have slipped under the radar if you do not follow the latest in criminal law topics, specifically the law surrounding expunctions in Texas. For those unaware, an expunction is a post-trial process that allows for the person who was arrested to petition to the court asking to delete any and all records of the arrest, making it inaccessible to the public going forward and even inaccessible to law enforcement.
Historically, the reach of the statute has been relatively limited and only applies to certain criminal defendants in very specific circumstances. With recent changes to the Texas expunction law, the reach is less limited, meaning more people can now be eligible to petition the court to wipe their criminal record clean.
Nonetheless, the newly expanded availability of expunctions for criminal defendants after the law change, unfortunately, does not make the process of petitioning the court and handling the case to the end any easier. There is nothing automatic about clearing your record, and the eligibility rules are still strict despite changes to the availability of the expunction statute. To prevent errors and omissions from affecting your future, it is smart to rely on Texas expunction attorneys for legal help. You can also review some basics about the new expunction law Texas passed in 2021.
Overview of Texas Expungement Laws
As an option for clearing your criminal record, an expunction is available only under limited circumstances. In general, you only qualify if you were not convicted and did not enter a guilty plea to resolve your criminal matter. Some of the specific grounds for an expunction include:
- After being arrested and charged, you were acquitted by a judge or jury.
- Even if you were found guilty at the trial court level if a higher appellate court overturns that finding of guilt and determines you should be exonerated.
- You were arrested, but prosecutors and/or law enforcement did not present charges within the statutory time period. Texas has a statute of limitations for most crimes; generally speaking, the more serious the crime, the longer the statute of limitations is. Some offenses carry no statute of limitation, such as murder or sexually assaulting a child, while the relevant time period for lesser crimes ranges anywhere from three to 10 years.
- After your arrest, officials did not present charges and will “certify” your expunction. This means the state agrees that the information related to your arrest will not be necessary for a criminal case against you or even someone else.
- The charges against you were dismissed, and if it can be shown that the presentment of the charges against you was made due to a mistake, false information, or other similar reason indicating a lack of probable cause at the time of dismissal to believe the person committed the crime. For instance, if the charges were based upon false information or other circumstances indicating an absence of probable cause, you may qualify for an expunction.
Legal Process For An Expunction in Texas
In almost every case, you will need to initiate the expunction process by filing a Petition for Expunction with the district court in the county where your arrest record is. You must provide basic information about yourself, the case you are seeking to expunge, and the grounds for expunction. You will complete and sign the petition under oath, which means your statements have the effect of testimony. There are serious penalties for providing false or misleading information. There are many other very technical items that must specifically be included in the initial petition for expunction. The law is very strict regarding the content and form of the petition, so strict adherence is a must.
After filing the petition, you will be given a future hearing date for the court to consider the issue. If you are eligible and meet all requirements, the court enters an Order of Expunction. Unfortunately, errors and omissions could have devastating consequences. The judge will deny the expunction if there are any issues with your petition, supporting documents, or during the hearing. Further, the state has the opportunity to object to your grounds for an expunction if it feels you are not entitled to the expunction. If the state does oppose, then it will advance its opposition at the hearing before the court and the judge will make the final call.
If the judge grants the expunction and signs the Order of Expunction, this is the document you will need to get to all involved agencies with documentation needing to be erased. It must be submitted to all agencies or organizations that have records about the case, at which point they will either delete the documents or return them to the court within a specific amount of time, and if they don’t, they face steep consequences with the court or under the law.
Benefits of Expunction for Your Future
In a successful expunction, all records related to your arrest, and all documents stemming from it, are removed from your criminal history. The case will not show up if you are required to submit to a background check for employment or other reasons. Plus, you do not have to disclose the matter if asked about your criminal history in some official capacity.
As such, an expunction is a powerful legal remedy to avoid the collateral consequences of a conviction. Below is a non-comprehensive list of the legal implications and/or consequences that likely result from being convicted, and which continue to impact most of your life going forward. Depending on the nature and severity of the crime, collateral consequences may include:
- Difficulties with employment.
- Revocation of a business or professional license.
- Suspension from school, college, or university.
- Disqualification from public housing and other benefits.
- Being ineligible for certain loans.
- Suspension of your driving privileges.
- Denial of right to vote.
- Denies the right to legally possess a firearm.
There can even be collateral consequences for your rights as a parent since courts may look to your criminal record when making decisions about child custody and visitation.
Another Option for Post-Conviction Relief
Even if you do not qualify for an expunction, you might be eligible for other legal remedies that offer similar benefits. The next best option is nondisclosure, which can hide or seal records of a criminal case. In a successful nondisclosure case, you can obtain an order requiring parties to seal the documents related to the case. You cannot force them to delete them, that is the function of an expunction. Instead, with a nondisclosure, the records are still available, but they are hidden from public view; only law enforcement and certain agencies will still have access. Even with just a nondisclosure, however, you likely will not face most of the above collateral consequences as listed above, so there are huge benefits to this post-conviction method of relief.
Get Legal Help from Our Skilled Galveston County Expunction Attorneys
The new updates to the expunction law that Texas passed in 2021 should be encouraging and exciting news for many individuals who qualify under the expanded provisions. If you are eligible or entitled to an expunction, it’s always a good idea to get it done before it hurts you in the future. However, you can see from the above information that the statute surrounding expunctions is complicated and the process is almost always overwhelming to someone who isn’t experienced with handling them.
To ensure the best possible outcome, it is critical to retain experienced legal representation who knows how to handle expunctions from start to finish. For information on how our team can assist with an expunction, please contact Criminal Defense Attorney Mark Diaz. You can schedule a no-cost initial consultation by calling (409) 515-6170.
Our Galveston County expunction lawyers serve clients throughout Galveston, Chambers and Harris Counties including but not limited to Tiki Island, Jamaica Beach, Texas City, League City, Alvin, Algoa, Santa Fe, Hitchcock, La Marque, Bayou Vista, Bacliff, San Leon, Dickinson, Kemah, Bolivar Peninsula, Clear Lake Shores, and Friendswood.