In Texas, a person can obtain expunction of their criminal conviction or arrest in only very limited circumstances. Expungement, or expunction, is an order from the court for the person's record to be sealed. A person who succeeds in an expungement request is able to then deny that a conviction or arrest ever occurred, and the record will not appear in criminal records checks.
An alternative route, for people who have completed a deferred adjudication for an eligible offense, is seeking an order of nondisclosure. If the person is successful, the record will only be disclosed for law enforcement purposes. Some offenses, however, are not eligible for an order of nondisclosure.
A huge problem, both for society at large as well as for an individual who has a conviction in his or her past, is that many convictions are not eligible for expunction, including any non-deferred conviction even for low-level misdemeanors. Essentially, if a person has a conviction and did not receive a deferred adjudication, he or she is stuck with it for life. In an age in which criminal background checks have become routine and commonplace, this places a burden not only on the individual who made a mistake at some time in his or her past, but also for society as well. It is time for Texas for expungement reform in Texas to expand the ability of more people to seal their arrest and criminal conviction records.
All people make mistakes. For some, a single mistake can lead to involvement in the criminal justice system and a record that haunts them. A criminal conviction can prevent someone from obtaining employment, housing and can be used to question credibility in court, among other disadvantages.
Society also stands to benefit by an expansion of expungement law in Texas. When an individual has difficulty obtaining housing or employment, the likelihood of committing a crime to obtain the means of survival increases. By closing doors for people in this manner, Texas adds to the poverty rate, leaving some individuals desperate. A careful analysis by policy makers needs to be undertaken and a real conversation about expanding the categories eligible for expungement needs to occur. As part of that discussion, the following potential benefits should be included:
A criminal conviction can prevent many people from obtaining employment. If someone with a conviction, even an old one, applies for work, he or she is less likely to be given the job even if he or she is more qualified for the position than another applicant who does not have a similar conviction. A person with a conviction is more likely to be turned down for adequate housing, leaving him or her to search for options in often less-than-desirable areas. In addition to the former offender, his or her family suffers as well.
Consider a person who at 18 years old, behaved badly and ended up with a conviction for a burglary. Suppose that person completed his or her sentence, and then led a life for the next ten years free from any interaction with the criminal justice system, married, and has children. Imagine that that person then, through no fault of their own, is laid off from a job and finds him or herself in the unenviable position of looking for work to support his or her family. Should that person's youthful conviction prevent him or her from finding work, or dooming his or her family into living in a crime-ridden neighborhood, unable to break out of a cycle of poverty?
While some serious offenses should not be sealed, there are many nonviolent crimes that should be eligible after the passage of time. Legislators need to take a new look at expunction and carefully consider the benefits of expanding this protection to include a greater segment of the population.
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