Some criminal cases can be completely expunged from your record. For example, when your case is dismissed or if you are found Not Guilty at trial. This can also be an option for cases that are rejected by the Grand Jury and cases where an arrest occurs but no case is ever filed with the District Attorney. Depending on the disposition of the case, there may be a waiting period.
Sometimes the State simply agrees with my expunction request, but sometimes I must have a contested hearing in front of a district court judge. Many lawyers shy away from having these hearings, but I have found judges to be fair when it comes to citizens being falsely accused. Once an expunction order is signed by the judge, all agencies that have any evidence you were ever charged with that criminal case are ordered by the court to destroy the records related to your arrest. This includes the police agency, the sheriff's department, the district attorney's office, and even private agencies.
When Can a Case Be Sealed?
If you successfully complete deferred adjudication probation on a case, you can get your record sealed in most instances. This is done by filing what is called a Petition for Non-Disclosure. This is different from an expunction, because the charges remain on your record but can only be viewed by individuals with special access. This includes government agencies as well as private employers with security clearance. However, most prospective employers and others will not be able to see the charge when they do a background check.
There may be a waiting period to seal the record in your case. Whether or not there is a waiting period depends on what level of offense you were placed on probation for. Most misdemeanors can be sealed immediately. All felonies and some misdemeanors, however, come with a waiting period that begins the day you are discharged from probation.
One word of warning: if you pick up a new case before you have your case sealed, you will lose the right to do so.
Can I Ever Get a Conviction off My Record?
The short answer is no. A conviction will always remain on your record. It does not "fall off" after a certain period of time, and it cannot be sealed or expunged. This is why it is so important to hire the right criminal defense lawyer at the beginning of your case, so that they can do everything possible to prevent a conviction. There are two rare and extraordinary measures to remove a conviction from your record. One is to obtain a pardon from the Governor. Governors usually only do this in exceptional situations and only as they are about to leave office. The other way is by having your case overturned through a writ of habeas corpus. There would have to be a valid legal reason for a case to be overturned on a writ. It is a long and expensive process. If you think you may be eligible for a writ, you should contact an experienced appellate attorney.
Additional resources provided by the author
The Texas Department of Public Safety maintains the central database for criminal records in Texas. Their website provides more information on expunctions and petitions for non-disclosure.