Changes coming for Expunctions in Texas?
Having a criminal record expunged can be life-changing. An expunction (also called expungement) allows a person to get rid of all records of an arrest and conviction. It can have wide-ranging implications, from gun permits, to apartment applications, to (perhaps most importantly) the job search. In Texas, expunctions are hard to come by. They are granted only in rare situations. Felony convictions can never be expunged without a pardon (rarely given), and will stay on a person’s criminal record for life. Fortunately, changes seem to be on the horizon. The current legislative session offers hope that expunction reform is coming.
Three bills currently being considered would all expand the availability of expunctions. House Bill 1014 will allow an expunction for certain non-violent offenses for which the accused was given only deferred adjudication (probation). House Bill 1644 would significantly reduce the waiting periods until an expuntion is available. House Bill 416 would prohibit District Attorneys from requiring the accused to waive his or her right to have their record expunged as part of the plea arrangement.
These three relatively small changes might signal a realization on the part of legislators that Texas’ expungement law is out of date. In years past, a physical visit to the courthouse was required to unearth a person’s criminal history. Now, it only takes a few keystrokes and mouse-clicks. With the ease that this information can be obtained, the negative consequences of a blemish on the record are amplified. A mistake at age 18 can follow someone for the rest of his or her life, and be available to anyone with an internet connection.
The bills which have been introduced to expand expunction law have some traction. I will follow the developments and update this post if and when these bills become law. Perhaps more importantly, these bills indicate that a tidal shift might have occurred. In the past legislators could not liberalize expungement law for fear of being seen as “soft on crime”. Perhaps now it has become apparent that it is better for everyone in society if we can give a second chance with a clean slate, instead of saddling people with a penalty that follows them for life.
In my opinion, an expansion of the availability of expungement is necessary in a world where information passes so freely. Hopefully the future will bring even wider availability for expunctions. For example, I would like to see expunctions available for those who were charged with a felony but plead to lesser charges. It will be interesting to see where this legislation goes over the next several years.
If you have questions about whether you can have your criminal record expunged, you can call my office. 512-677-5003. I handle expunctions in Travis, Hays, and Williamson counties.