The legislature this week passed a bill that will allow more offenders seal their criminal records in Texas. Senate Bill 1902 expands eligibility for an order of nondisclosure to include many one-time offenders with a misdemeanor conviction. The bill improves the state’s current expungement laws, but unfortunately for many deserving Texans with a single past conviction, the changes will only apply to offenses committed on or after September 1, 2015.
Limitations of the Current Law
Cases that resulted in a conviction are not eligible for a sealing, which in Texas is called an order of nondisclosure (OND). Under the current law in Texas, only an individual who received deferred adjudication and had the charges dismissed following successful completion of that program is eligible for an Order of Non-Disclosure. This means that regardless of the type of offense, how much time has passed or if it is the only thing on the individual’s criminal record, a conviction cannot be expunged or sealed. The law leaves out an enormous group of deserving former offenders, who could benefit enormously from the opportunities that record sealing provides.
First-Time Offenders Will Benefit From SB 1902
Some are calling Senate Bill 1902 a “second chance” bill. And a second chance is truly what it provides; however, it will not provide a third, fourth or fifth chance. Individuals with an eligible misdemeanor conviction that petition for an OND but that have been convicted, placed on deferred adjudication, or received an OND previously are not eligible. Additionally, as like under the current statute, individuals are ineligible if they are convicted or placed on deferred adjudication for any other non-traffic offense during their deferred adjudication period or the waiting period.
Major Flaw: Changes Do Not Apply to Offenses Committed Before September 1, 2015
While this law is a great step in the right direction, it will not help the large number of people with a conviction already on their record. Senate Bill 1902 is set to go into effect on September 1, 2015, and the bill states that the new law expanding the eligibility for an OND only applies to offenses committed on or after the effective date.. This law will be hugely beneficial for those who commit their offense after 09/01/2015 and receive their first conviction, but it does not help the large number of people who are currently suffering from the effects of a single conviction in their past.
Exceptions and Safeguards in the OND Law
The new law will open up the opportunity for many individuals in the future that commit their first offense by allowing them to petition for an OND, while leaving in place many of the exceptions and safeguards that are seen in the current law. For example, SB 1902 maintains the prohibition on serious violent offenders, sexual offenders and family violent offenders from ever receiving an order of nondisclosure. SB 1902 also only provides for the sealing of misdemeanor convictions but does not provide any recourse for those with a felony conviction.
Automatic Sealing For Some Deferred Adjudication Cases
Under SB 1902, individuals who successfully complete deferred adjudication for many misdemeanor offenses and have the charges dismissed will automatically be granted an order of nondisclosure at the time of the dismissal. This is also a major change, because currently, these individuals would be required to submit a petition. This new law streamlines the process for those who are eligible under the current law in addition to expanding the eligibility for this relief to the one-time offenders with a conviction on their record. Those who successfully complete deferred adjudication for a felony offense would still required to petition for the sealing as they are under the existing law.
Texas Joining Other States in Recognizing the Importance of a Second Chance
Texas is one of many states in recent years to consider an expansion of their expungement or record sealing laws. Legislatures have started to recognize the importance of lowering the barriers former offenders face while seeking employment and reentering society. The “Statement of Intent” for SB 1902 evidences this recognition, as it states that “a responsible, limited expansion of current nondisclosure law is important in giving reformed offenders a second chance, creating a safer Texas, and increasing the workforce with individuals who are no longer limited by their minor criminal histories.”
State Senator Charles Perry first introduced senate Bill 1902 in March. It passed the senate on May 5 and the House on May 21. It is now waiting on action by the governor but is expected to become law and will go into effect on September 1, 2015.