Have you been denied a job or housing and have no idea why? A minor violation from years ago, that you thought was removed from your record, may be visible to potential employers and rental agencies, who routinely do background checks. Background checks have become so cheap and easy that your neighbors, friends and family, churches, and even your children’s sports organizations may be looking into your background.
Having a clean criminal record is extremely important.
There is a mistaken belief that if a case is dismissed or a jury returns a finding of “not guilty”, the records related to the underlying arrest and charges are hidden from public view. Similarly, there is a misconception that if you complete deferred adjudication, the records will also be sealed. That is simply not the case.
The truth is, several entities will have records related to the arrest. For instance, the arresting police department and prosecuting district attorney’s office will retain records of the arrest and resulting charge. In addition, records of the arrest are also sent to the Texas Department of Public Safety and may be retained by a probation officer if the charge results in probation. More troubling, under the Texas Open Records Act, records of the arrest and charge are often compiled by companies such as Public Data; these records are easily accessible by anyone. Before the Internet, records of an arrest and subsequent charges were mostly hidden from view because they were too costly to obtain. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case.
There are two ways to clean your criminal record in Texas. An expunction, in which the records of the arrest and related charges are destroyed, and a non-disclosure, in which the records of the underlying arrest and subsequent charges are sealed from almost everyone’s view. The type of charge and the disposition of the case will determine if the records can be expunged or if a non-disclosure is appropriate*.*
The filing for an expunction or a petition for non-disclosure is a technical matter that may require a hearing in front of a judge for approval. More importantly, you may only get one chance to get it right. If the application is denied for any reason, such as not having the correct information, it may not be filed again, and the underlying charges will remain in the public eye. Therefore, it is best to get an experienced attorney to help seal your records.