For many people, an arrest and conviction can drastically alter their lives. Having a record can make it difficult to find a job or qualify for some government benefits. Some people, however, will be able to expunge their criminal record. That is, they can remove an arrest, criminal charges, and possibly even a conviction from public view. In a sense, it is a fresh start. FindLaw offers this guide to expungement in Dallas.
Not every person arrested for a criminal offense is eligible for expungement, which is also referred to as expunction. The first step is to determine your eligibility. The state recommends that you obtain a copy of your criminal history record information (CHRI) and consult with an attorney.
To get your CHRI, you will need to be fingerprinted by Fingerprint Applicant Services of Texas. See the Department of Public Safety's directions for scheduling an appointment and submitting your prints (PDF). The process costs about $25. With a copy of your record in hand, you and your attorney can figure out whether you qualify for expunction or another form of fresh-start relief.
Eligibility for Expunction
Your eligibility for expunction is determined by the facts of your case. The law considers: (1) whether your case went to trial; (2) whether you were formally charged; (3) whether the statute of limitations has run; and (4) the nature of the offense.
Resolved by Trial
If your case went all the way through trial, you were either acquitted or convicted. If you were acquitted, meaning that a jury found you either innocent or not guilty, then you may have a right to have your record expunged. The exception to this rule occurs when a defendant is acquitted on one criminal charge, but convicted of another that arises out of the same "episode." Whether charges arise out of the same episode is a bit technical but generally the question is whether a charge stems from the same actions, conduct, or plan as the other charge. For example, if you are acquitted on robbery charges, but you were convicted of a theft charge from the incident, your arrest for robbery may not be expunged.
If you were convicted, there is still a chance that your record may be expunged. To have your record cleared, you would have to be either: (1) pardoned after your conviction, or (2) otherwise declared to be actually innocent of the offense for which you were convicted.
Maybe you weren't convicted, but the state pressed formal charges. If the charges were dismissed or quashed, then you will likely be able to expunge the arrest and charging history.
Statute of Limitations
Did the alleged crime happen a long time ago? The law places time limits on the state's ability to convict people for violations of the criminal law. The laws that set these limits are called "statutes of limitations." Use the arrest record that you obtain to find out which crime the state alleged that you committed, and see whether the statute of limitations has run.
The Nature of the Crime
Were you arrested for a misdemeanor or felony? If you were arrested, and the statute of limitations hasn't run, you still have a limited right to expunction. If you were arrested for a class C misdemeanor, the most minor of crimes, and 180 days have gone by without formal charges, you are eligible to have the arrest expunged. Similarly, if the underlying crime was a class A or B misdemeanor, and one year has passed without formal charges, you may be eligible. If the underlying crime was a felony and three years have passed, you may be eligible. Again, obtain your CHRI and think about consulting with an attorney.
The Procedure for Expunction
The process for having an arrest and/or conviction expunged will vary depending on the method by which you are eligible for the service:
Effect of Expunction
If you have successfully expunged your criminal record, no person or entity is allowed to release, maintain, or share that record. Generally, you do not have to admit to the prior arrest or conviction that you've removed. The only exception to this non-disclosure rule is if you're asked in court under oath whether you've been arrested. In that case, you can just state that your record has been expunged.
Contact a qualified attorney.