In Texas, some criminal records can be sealed or expunged so that the general public cannot access them.
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Texas’ expungement and record sealing rules are complicated, and the law can change at any time. To learn more about the law—and to find out if your criminal record is eligible for sealing or expunction—contact Texas Expungement Authority Attorney Charles Johnson, a Criminal Defense Attorney in Houston, TX, who has more than two decades of experience handling these types of cases.
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Expunction and Record Sealing Explained
In Texas, expunction (called “expungement” in some states) and record sealing are two different processes. But when a record is sealed or expunged, most potential employers who conduct background checks, for example, will be prohibited from accessing the information. And, in many cases, once your record has been expunged or sealed you do not have to disclose it. (Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article. 55.03; Texas Government Code § 411.0755 (2018).)
Expunction. If a court orders your record to be expunged, it may not be released or used for any purpose. After receiving an expunction, you are permitted to deny that you have been arrested or had a record expunged, unless you are asked about an expunged record while under oath in a criminal trial. In that case, you need only state that the record in question has been expunged. (Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 55.03 (2018).)
Record sealing under an Order of Nondisclosure. Some criminal records in Texas can be sealed by a court under an Order of Nondisclosure. Once a criminal history record is sealed, the general public will not be able to view it. Under Texas law, criminal justice agencies will have access to sealed information, and they may disclose it only to you, other criminal justice agencies, or the licensing and employment entities specified in the law. That means that if you are applying for a job at a school, for example, a Texas law enforcement agency would be required to share your sealed record with your potential employer if it requests the information. (Texas Government Code §§ 411.076, 411.0765 (2018).)
Your criminal record may be eligible for expunction if you were arrested for a misdemeanor or felony and:
- you were acquitted at trial
- you were convicted and subsequently pardoned or found innocent
- you were charged but the case against you was dismissed and the statute of limitations has expired, or
- you were not formally charged with a crime and satisfy the required waiting period (described below).
If you were arrested and not charged with a crime, Texas law requires you to wait a certain period of time before applying for expunction. The waiting periods vary depending on the severity of the crime for which you were arrested and are as follows:
- Class C misdemeanor, 180 days from the date of your arrest
- Class A or B misdemeanor, one year from the date of your arrest
- felony, three years from the date of your arrest.
(Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 55.01 (2018).)
If you are a close relative of a deceased person with a criminal record that is eligible for expunction, you can apply to have the record expunged on that person’s behalf. The law defines a close relative as a parent, grandparent, spouse, or adult brother, sister, or child of the deceased person. (Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 55.011 (2018).)
Your criminal record may be eligible for sealing under an order of nondisclosure if you pled guilty or no contest to a crime and were placed on deferred adjudication community supervision, meaning that:
- the judge deferred proceedings without finding you guilty
- placed you under court supervision, and
- at the end of your period of supervision dismissed the proceedings against you.
There is a five-year waiting period for felonies and a two-year waiting period for serious misdemeanors. (Texas Government Code §§ 411.0715, 411.0725 (2018).)
Additionally, most misdemeanor convictions are eligible for sealing. If your punishment consisted of a fine only, there is no waiting period. Otherwise, you must wait two years after you have successfully completed your sentence to apply to have your record sealed. (Texas Government Code §§ 411.073, 411.0735 (2018).)
However, some crimes are never eligible for sealing under an order of disclosure, including:
- any crime that requires you to register as a sex offender
- aggravated kidnapping
- human trafficking
- child endangerment or abandonment
- any family violence offense, and
(See Texas Government Code § 411.074 for the full list of disqualifying crimes.)
Frequently Asked Questions about Expungements
Many people who are arrested but are found not guilty or have their cases dismissed are surprised to learn that they still have criminal records. The only way a person can have his or her criminal history taken out of public view is to get the record expunged or sealed.
What types of cases are eligible for expungement?
Under Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Section 55.01, you may be eligible for expungement (also referred to as “expunction”) if criminal charges were never filed, charges were filed but then were later dismissed, you were convicted but later proven innocent, you were no-billed by a grand jury, you were acquitted, you were not tried and the prosecutor recommended expungement, you were pardoned by the Governor of Texas, the President of the United States, or otherwise granted relief based on your actual innocence. You could also be eligible if you pleaded guilty or were convicted of certain misdemeanor offenses when you were a child.
What if I received deferred prosecution or deferred adjudication?
If you successfully completed a pre-trial diversion program that you were referred to after deferred prosecution, you could be eligible for expungement. However, people who were sentenced to deferred adjudication are eligible for expungement only for Class C misdemeanors. People who received deferred adjudication for Class B misdemeanors, Class A misdemeanors, or felony offenses of any level are not eligible for expungement, although they may be able to seal their criminal records through an order of nondisclosure.
What is an order of nondisclosure?
An order of nondisclosure effectively seals a person’s criminal record and thus shields it from being viewable by any member of the public. Texas Government Code Section 411.081(d) states that a person can petition the court that placed him or her on deferred adjudication community supervision for an order of nondisclosure so long as he or she entered a plea of guilty or nolo contendere (no contest), the judge deferred further proceedings without entering an adjudication of guilt and placed the person under court supervision, and the judge dismissed the proceedings and discharged the person at the end of the period of supervision.
What is the difference between an expungement and an order of nondisclosure?
When you have your criminal record expunged, it is essentially destroyed. Under Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Section 55.02, this means that the clerk of the court certifies the destruction of files or other records, but certain agencies will be able to see that there was an expungement on the record. After having your record expunged, you can legally deny you were arrested. An order of nondisclosure also affords you this privilege, but your record is sealed rather than destroyed. This means that while it is not viewable by the public, the record of an arrest can still be viewed by certain governmental entities and law enforcement or authorized noncriminal justice agencies.
What is the waiting period required before seeking expungement or nondisclosure?
The length of time you are required to wait to file for expungement or an order of nondisclosure depends on the classification of the crime for which you were arrested but were never charged. You must wait 180 days from the date of your arrest for a Class C misdemeanor offense, one year from the date of your arrest for a Class B misdemeanor or Class A misdemeanor, and three years from the date of your arrest for any felony.
How long does the expungement process take?
It will generally take at least 30 days for a hearing date to be set after a petition has been filed, usually between four and six weeks. If an expungement is granted, it can take up to 180 days for agencies to destroy the records. Getting your criminal record expunged or obtaining an order of nondisclosure can be an extremely complex and confusing process, but you can give yourself the best chance of having your hearing date set and expungement granted as quickly as possible by working with an experienced attorney.
Finding the Best Texas Attorney for Sealing or Expunging Records
If you believe that you are eligible to have your record sealed or expunged, take an important step today by contacting an Expungement Authority, Houston Criminal Attorney Charles Johnson. The Charles Johnson Law Firm helps get criminal records expunged all over the Houston area, including locations in Harris County, Montgomery County, Brazoria County, Fort Bend County, Liberty County, Waller County, and Galveston County. Contact our Firm today at (713) 222-7577 for your free case review.