What is the process for obtaining an expunction in Houston?

By Jose Ceja
Managing Attorney

Every year in Houston, thousands of expunctions are filed. Most cases that are expunged are misdemeanors with many being DWI expunctions, theft or shoplifting expunctions, domestic violence expunctions or prostitution expunctions

No matter what the charge, obtaining an expunction in a criminal case is the best possible result as it results in all records of the arrest being destroyed and legally entitles you to deny the existence of the arrest (in most instances). In short, an expunction is truly the best way to put a case behind you. But what is the process for obtaining an expunction in Houston? What can you expect if you want to have a Harris County criminal case expunged? 

Am I eligible for an expunction of my Houston arrest?

The first step in obtaining an expunction of a Houston arrest is determining whether you are eligible. Under Texas Penal Code 55.01 (the Texas Expunction Statute), there are several ways that a person can be eligible for an expunction, but in general, you must have been found “not guilty” at trial or your case must have been dismissed.

If you pled guilty, regardless of the sentence, then you will not be eligible for an expunction (the only exception is that a Class “C” deferred adjudication can be expunged). This includes situations where you pled guilty and accepted a “time served” offer or were assessed regular probation or deferred adjudication probation. However, if you successfully completed a pre-trial diversion program, then you may be eligible for an expunction after the waiting period.

Once you are eligible, you need to determine whether there is a waiting period for your expunction. In general, under Texas law, you must wait until the statute of limitations expires before filing an expunction (the statute of limitations is the time period prosecutors have to file a criminal charge). For example, if you are arrested for misdemeanor DWI (which has a statute of limitations of two years), you must usually wait until two years after the date of your arrest to obtain an expunction, assuming you are eligible. However, it is important to realize that there many exceptions to this rule and in many cases, it is possible to get an expunction sooner. For example, in Houston, it is possible for an expunction attorney to request an early expunction from the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, which is frequently granted. An experienced expunction attorney can tell you what the waiting period for your expunction might be. 

How long is the expunction process in Houston?

An expunction is a relatively slow process so it is a good idea to begin as soon as you are eligible. An expunction can be thought of as a lawsuit that orders any agency with a record of the arrest to destroy it. 

First, your expunction attorney prepares a petition with all of the agencies that may have a record of the arrest, which is filed with the civil district court in Houston. The District Clerk then sends notice to all the agencies listed in the petition. In many cases, you do not have to appear in court for an expunction, although sometimes there is a hearing. In Houston, the process of obtaining an expunction can take up to 6 months, although very frequently it is much quicker. 

What are the benefits of an expunction?

Under Texas law, an expunction is the best way to put a criminal case behind you. After the expunction is complete, recordings relating to the arrest are destroyed, which means that the arrest would not appear on a criminal history search. You are legally permitted to deny the existence of the arrest in most instances (you should consult with an attorney before denying the arrest on a legal document such as an immigration application). 

Attorney Jose Ceja is a former prosecutor who has helped hundreds of clients obtain expunctions of criminal charges in the Houston area. Mr. Ceja and his staff are fluent in Spanish and are ready to help you clear your name and put a criminal arrest in the past. Call Ceja Law Firm today for a free consultation.

About the Author
Jose Ceja is the managing attorney of Ceja Law Firm. He has practiced law since 2007 and has devoted his career to the practice of criminal law. Mr. Ceja began his legal career as a felony drug prosecutor, where he prosecuted drug, gang, and violent offenses. Mr. Ceja has first or second chaired almost 100 trials, including murders, drug cases, DWIs, and assaults. In his career as a defense attorney, he has regularly obtained dismissals, not guilty verdicts, and grand jury “no bills” in a wide variety of cases.