In Re J.O
Court of Appeals of Texas, El Paso
November 2, 2011
Holding: A petitioner who demonstrates that she is entitled to expunction under Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 55.01 must be granted her petition.
Why This Case is Important: Texas expungement law is constructed in an all or nothing approach. A petitioner who meets all the requirements of Article 55.01 will be entitled to expunge her criminal records. On that same note, a petitioner who fails to prove that she meets the requirements under the statute will not be granted expungement. In determining whether a petitioner has met her burden under the statute, courts will typically look at the construction of the statute. This generally means that courts will examine what Legislature intended. Because the statute is unambiguous, courts will strictly interpret the statute, and will require strict compliance with the statute’s requirements. In a majority of cases, the plain meaning of the statute will give a clear answer for a court on whether it was within their discretion to grant or deny expungement. A court will abuse its discretion in two instances: (1) where the petitioner is entitled to expunction and the court denies it, and (2) where the petitioner is not entitled to expunction and the court grants it.
Facts of This Case: The petitioner in this case was charged by information with possession of marijuana. The petitioner pleaded guilty to the offense, but was convicted of the reduced charge of disorderly conduct. The petitioner subsequently filed to expunge her arrest record for possession of marijuana, and the trial court granted that request.
The Texas court of appeals reversed the trial court’s decision. The court of appeals first determined that a trial court has no discretion and must grant the petition if the statutory requirements are met. The appeals court also determined that trial courts have no power to grant expunction if the requirements are not met. The Texas court of appeals determined that the petitioner in this case fell into the latter category. The court of appeals held that although the petitioner was convicted of another offense as a result of the plea bargain, that her convicted offense was a result from her offense she wished to expunge. By the plain language of Article 55.01, the court of appeals determined that her conviction thereby prevented her from expungement of her arrest record.
As a result, the court of appeals reversed the trial court’s order and rendered a judgment denying the petitioner’s request.
Key Language: When the petitioner alleges that she is entitled to an expunction under Article 55.01, the trial court has no discretion but to grant the petition if the statutory requirements are met. By the same token, trial courts have no equitable power to grant expunction should the petitioner fail to establish her right to such by demonstrating strict compliance with the conditions imposed by Article 55.01.
Expert Advise: “Strict compliance with Article 55.01 is necessary to successfully petition to have a criminal record expunged. It is important for attorneys to understand how courts and the Legislature have interpreted Article 55.01 in order to help a petitioner obtain relief.” Attorney Mathew Higbee.
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