When Must a Court Grant an Expunction in Texas?


T.C.R. v. Bell County Dist. Attorney’s Office
Court of Appeals of Texas, Austin
August 6, 2009

Holding: A petitioner will be entitled to expunction where he has satisfied the requirements of Texas Penal Code Article 55.01, in which case the court must grant the petitioner relief.

Why This Case is Important: Admittedly, the framework of Article 55.01 is narrow, requiring the petitioner to fit a certain construct before relief can be granted. This narrow framework is cane best be explained by the primary purpose of Article 55.01, which is meant to allow person who were wrongfully arrested to expunge their records. As a result, the primary model for the statute is based off mistake. This can be seen in the language of the statute itself. For example, the statute will grant relief if the petitioner was acquitted or pardoned, or if the petitioner was indicted, then a petitioner may be granted relief if the indictment was dismissed because of mistake, falsity, or a lack of probable cause.

This “mistake” framework was somewhat changed by a 2001 amendment. The amendment was added in regards to the scenario where a petitioner was presented with a charging instrument that was dismissed. Aside from the requirement of being dismissed for mistake, falsity, or lack of probable cause, the Legislature included that in the alternative, a petitioner shall have his records expunged if the charging instrument has been dismissed or quashed and the limitations period for the specific offense has expired. As a result, a petitioner could now be granted relief if he did not commit a new crime after the charging instrument was dismissed, regardless of whether there was mistake, falsity or a lack of probable cause. This had the effect of changing the “mistake” framework into a “rehabilitation” framework.

It is important to note that once a petitioner establishes that he has met the requirements of Article 55.01, then the court has no discretion on whether to grant the petitioner expungement of his records; in simpler terms, the court must grant expunction.

Facts of This Case: In this case, the petitioner filed to expunge records of his arrests on two felony charges. The district court denied the petitioners request on the grounds that the petitioner did not have his charges dismissed due to mistake, falsity or lack of probable cause.

The Texas court of appeals reversed the district court’s decision. The court of appeals held that Article 55.01, as amended by the Legislature in 2001, granted a petitioner the right to expungement if his charging instrument was dismissed, and the limitation period for the offense has passed. The court determined that the petitioner’s charging instrument had been dismissed, and although it was not for mistake, falsity or lack of probable cause, because the petitioner had passed the limitations period, then he should have been granted expungement. The court of appeals ruled that when a petitioner has proven that he has met the requirements of expungement, then the court has no discretion and must grant the expungement.

The Texas court of appeals reversed the district court’s decision. The court of appeals held that Article 55.01, as amended by the Legislature in 2001, granted a petitioner the right to expungement if his charging instrument was dismissed, and the limitation period for the offense has passed. The court determined that the petitioner’s charging instrument had been dismissed, and although it was not for mistake, falsity or lack of probable cause, because the petitioner had passed the limitations period, then he should have been granted expungement. The court of appeals ruled that when a petitioner has proven that he has met the requirements of expungement, then the court has no discretion and must grant the expungement.

The court of appeals therefore reversed the district court’s denial for expungement, and ordered the district court to expunge the petitioner’s records.

Key Language: “Petitioner was eligible for expunction of arrest records relating to felony charges that had been dismissed in connection with plea bargains in other cases, where the charging instrument had been dismissed or quashed and the limitations period for the offense expired before the expunction petition was filed.”

Expert Advise: “The 2001 amendments to Article 55.01 expand the range of eligible persons to petition for expungement. It signifies the Legislature’s movement towards recognizing rehabilitation, and broadens the once narrow expungement statute. This case recognizes the court’s interpretation of the 2001 amendments, and establishes that a petitioner need not have his charging instrument dismissed because of falsity, mistake, or lack of probable cause, in order to be eligible for relief.” Attorney Mathew Higbee

To read about more cases that help to define record clearing relief laws click here.

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