How to Get a Felony Off Your Record in Texas

United States Federal Courthouse in Austin, TX
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An individual who has a felony record may be able to expunge it, which is the process that destroys the record, according to Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Chapter 55. There is typically a three-year waiting period to expunge a felony record in Texas.

Felons may also be able to seal their record through a process known as an order of nondisclosure, for which there is also a waiting period.

Why Expunge a Criminal Record?

In Texas, as in most other states, an individual who has a felony charge on their record loses certain rights, including the right to vote. A convicted felon does not regain their voting rights until they’ve completed their sentence, probation or parole.

At that time, the state automatically restores these rights, but they need to register to vote again and they may need to provide proof that they’ve completed their sentence.

Gun Laws for Felons

Felons cannot legally carry guns, but state and federal laws differ as to how long. Texas law states that a felon can once again possess a firearm after five years if they have no other felony convictions and at their residence only.

However, federal law does not allow convicted felons to possess guns at all, so even though a Texas felon can lawfully possess a firearm in their home per state law, they can still be charged and convicted according to federal law. Felons cannot also run or hold public office after a conviction in Texas.

Expunged Records and Criminal Background Checks

A felony offense stays on an individual’s record and shows up anytime someone performs a background check. When an expunction removes the felony from the person’s criminal record, they are not required to mention it anywhere, including to potential employers.

Expunction vs. Nondisclosure

Through the process of expunction or nondisclosure, a person with a felony may be able to clean up or seal their criminal history record. This can make it easier for them to get a job, earn a professional license, and improve their credit score.

Expunction permanently removes entries from a person's criminal history record. A nondisclosure order (NDO) seals the criminal record, hiding certain criminal offenses from the public, but criminal justice, licensing and some government agencies still have access to it.

Eligibility for nondisclosure depends on the type of offense committed and if the court put the individual on deferred adjudication community supervision, which is regular community supervision instead of a conviction.

Requirements for Expunction in Texas

A Texas felon cannot remove a felony conviction from their record through expunction unless there was a pardon or acquittal on appeal. In fact, an individual who has been convicted of any offense or who is on community supervision with anything other than Class C misdemeanor convictions is not eligible for expunction.

Of non-traffic offenses, Class C misdemeanors are the lowest level offenses and do not result in jail time.

Similarly, felons are not eligible for expunction if their arrest was related to a warrant for a probation violation or if they flee the jurisdiction after being released on bond. Criminal records that are eligible for expunction are:

  • Those of individuals who were never charged with a crime.
  • Those of individuals with a dismissed criminal charge.
  • Some qualifying misdemeanor juvenile offenses, such as juvenile alcohol offenses or convictions for truancy.
  • Those of individuals arrested, convicted or charged due to identity theft by a person who was actually arrested, convicted or charged of the crime.
  • Those of an individual who was acquitted by the Court of Criminal Appeals trial court.
  • Those of an individual who was later pardoned by the Texas governor or U.S. president.

Not all eligible individuals will actually receive an expunction.

Waiting Periods to File for Expunction

Texas requires a minimum waiting period before an individual can file an expunction petition:

  • Felony expungement:‌ Three years.
  • Class A and B misdemeanors:‌ One year.
  • Class C misdemeanors:‌ 180 days.

Before a criminal record can be expunged, if the individual was charged for any offenses, the statute of limitations for those offenses must expire for every crime for which they were arrested, not just the crimes they were charged for.

How to Fill Out a Petition for Expungement in Texas

Before beginning the process for expunction, the individual should seek the advice of a criminal defense attorney and review the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure; errors in the expungement procedure may have serious consequences.

The petitioner who wishes to gain an expunction must first file a petition for expunction with the district court requesting the order. The petition includes:

  • Petitioner's identifying information, including offense charged.
  • Date of arrest.
  • Date the offense occurred.
  • Name of arresting law enforcement agency.
  • List of every agency or facility that has a record of the arrest.

The petition should also contain:

  • Court case number.
  • Court name.
  • Information on the resolution of the charge (dismissed, acquitted or no bill by the grand jury).
  • Date case was resolved.
  • Notary public certification of petitioner's signature.

Petition should also have a blank “notice of hearing” space where the court will enter the time of the hearing.

Expungement Process in Texas

A petition for expungement must be filed with the proper court. Depending on the level of offense, this will be a municipal, county or district court.

The petition is typically filed in the same court where the offense was charged. After filing, the court schedules the expungement hearing and sends notice of it to respondents (applicable agencies and facilities.) At the hearing, the respondents can contest the petition. If the petitioner meets all the court’s requirements, the judge will grant expungement.

A court generally expects the petitioner to have a drafted expungement order at the hearing ready for the judge’s signature. After the judge signs the order, the Department of Public Safety will submit it to the agencies or organizations that have the records of the expunged offense. These will be deleted or returned to the court clerk per the court’s order.

Who Are Respondents in an Expungement Hearing?

Respondents include public entities that the offender interacted with during their criminal case. Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • Community Justice Assistance Division for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
  • Office of Court Administration.
  • Arresting law enforcement office.
  • County sheriff's office where petitioner was incarcerated.
  • Prosecuting agency.
  • Clerk of court.
  • Magistrate who oversaw the arraignment.
  • Person or agency who issued the warrant.
  • Personal services office (for personal bonds).
  • County or city counseling services.
  • County or city treasurer where case was heard.
  • School administration (if campus police were involved).
  • Probation officers.
  • Coordinators for community service.
  • Tobacco Alcoholic Beverage Commission (if crime was alcohol-related).

What Are Nondisclosure Methods Used in Texas?

A nondisclosure order seals a person’s records, meaning that government agencies can’t give out information about a particular offense. With a nondisclosure order, the offender does not need to reveal information about the offense to potential employers or anyone else, but the information remains in their criminal record and is visible to law enforcement and other government agencies.

An automatic nondisclosure applies only to first-time misdemeanors (other than traffic fines) that were discharged and dismissed after August 31, 2017. If an offender meets all legal requirements, the court will order the nondisclosure six months after the date the offender was on deferred adjudication community supervision, regular community supervision instead of a conviction.

The offender does not have to file anything themselves; the order is automatic. All eligible offenses that don’t qualify for an automatic order require a nondisclosure with petition.

Why a Person May Not Be Eligible for Nondisclosure

If an offender has ever been placed on deferred adjudication or convicted for any of these offenses, they are not eligible for nondisclosure:

  • Offenses for which they are required to register as a sex offender.
  • Aggravated kidnapping.
  • Murder and capital murder.
  • Trafficking and continuous trafficking of people.
  • Injury to an elderly or disabled person or minor.
  • Endangering or abandoning a minor.
  • Violating or repeatedly violating conditions of bond or court orders in a sexual abuse or assault case, stalking case, trafficking or family violence case.
  • Stalking.

These restrictions apply to an offender's entire criminal history, including the offense they wish to seal.

Waiting Periods to File for Nondisclosure

If a person has criminal charges they wish to seal, the statute of limitations must have run out on all offenses stemming from their arrest, unless they complete a pretrial diversion program. The statute of limitations pauses from the time an individual is charged.

The waiting period for a nondisclosure order depends on the offense the individual wants to shield from the public:

  • Misdemeanor:‌ Eligible to file for nondisclosure immediately or soon after completing their sentence or deferred adjudication. Some misdemeanors have a waiting period of up to two years.
  • Felony:‌ Five years.
  • DWI:‌ From two to five years depending on whether DWI is a felony and the individual had a breathalyzer in their car.

Process for Getting an Order of Nondisclosure

The process for petitioning the court for an order of nondisclosure is much like the process for filing for an order for expunction. The petitioner files the petition in the county where the offense was charged and the case assigned.

After filing, the court schedules the nondisclosure hearing and sends notice of it to the respondents. At the hearing, the respondents may contest the nondisclosure order.

If the petitioner meets all the court’s requirements, it will grant and sign the order of nondisclosure. After that, the petitioner's record will be sealed. The judge may deny the order if justice would not be served by granting it.

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