You can get a felony off your record in Texas through expungement, which destroys the record, or through a related process, an order of non-disclosure, that seals the record so that it can no longer be accessed. Both processes are mandated in Chapter 55 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. Generally, there is a three-year waiting period before you can apply for an expungement in Texas, and it is really only available for arrests that were never charged.
The Consequences of a Felony Record
Felonies are serious crimes, such as robbery, rape and serious assaults resulting in great bodily harm. In Texas, you can have a felony record even if you haven't been convicted – the felony goes on your record once you have been charged. Having a felony record can make it very difficult to do the kinds of things most people take for granted: renting an apartment, obtaining a mortgage, joining the military or getting a job. It can also prevent you from adopting a child or obtaining child custody in a divorce and can even trigger deportation proceedings. With consequences this severe, a process that can get a felony off your record is well worth pursuing.
Expunging or Sealing Your Record
If the specific statutory provisions of the criminal code are met, you can successfully petition the Texas Criminal Court to have your felony record expunged or sealed. After an expungement or sealing of the record through an order of non-disclosure, all your rights are restored. For example, you can legally answer "no" if you are asked if you have a criminal record. For all practical purposes, it is as if the felony charge never existed.
In Texas, expungement and sealing off a record have similar processes and benefits. The basic difference is that one process destroys the record and the other makes it unavailable for viewing by anyone other than certain government officials. In relatively rare circumstances, a sealed record may also be opened by means of a petition to unseal.
The qualifications for sealing a record are slightly less rigorous than those for expungement, giving the judge hearing your petition a little more leeway in granting it. For this reason, some lawyers recommend that petitioners make application for both processes at the same time. If the judge can't grant expungement, he may still be able to seal your record.
Not Every Felony is Eligibile
Here are the the two most common factors that make you eligible for either process:
- You were arrested for a felony, but were never charged.
- Your felony charge was dismissed.
In the first scenario, you must wait three years after the day of your arrest to file for expungement of the criminal record. If you have been pardoned for a felony crime by either the President of the United States or the Governor of Texas, you are also eligible, but the reality is that these pardons are rare. In his first year in office, Texas Governor Abbott issued only four pardons, none of them for felonies.
How Long Will the Process Take?
Assuming your petition is valid and you qualify for an expungement, the court will aim to schedule a hearing within around 30 days. If a judge orders the expungement, it can take up to six months for the court to register the decision. In other words, you should expect the entire process to take seven or eight months to complete, after which time the felony arrest or charge will not longer be available for public viewing.