Every year, hundreds of people are arrested and charged with theft or shoplifting in the Houston area. The majority of theft cases are misdemeanor shoplifting cases, but theft cases can cover a wide-variety of situations. Due to the stigma of stealing, even a dismissed theft case can still leave a stain on your record that can make it difficult to find work or housing.
Many people incorrectly believe that a dismissed theft or shoplifting case will automatically be wiped off of your record once your case is dismissed, but that is not the case. If your case has been dismissed, the arrest records will continue to exist until you get the records expunged. For this reason, it is highly advisable to obtain an expunction of your theft or shoplifting arrest as soon as you quality.
What is an expunction?
Under Texas law, an expunction is a legal procedure that causes the records of a criminal arrest to be destroyed. An expunction involves an order signed by a judge requiring any law enforcement agency with a record of an arrest to destroy it. An expunction is considered to be the best way to “clean” your record and ensure that a theft arrest does not have an adverse effect on your life in the future.
What is the effect of getting my theft records expunged?
Once the expunction is complete and the records of your theft arrest are destroyed, you will be legally entitled to deny the existence of the arrest in most cases and as a result, you will not have to disclose the arrest on job applications or housing and licensing applications. Additionally, the arrest will eventually be deleted from most criminal history databases and not appear on most criminal history searches. Successfully obtaining an expunction in a theft case also means that law enforcement will not be able to see that you have been arrested in the past (which could affect the way you are treated by law enforcement in any future interactions with the police).
How do I know if I am eligible for an expunction of my theft case?
Unfortunately, not every theft or shoplifting case is eligible for expunction under Texas law. You may be eligible for an expunction if your theft case was dismissed or you went to trial and were acquitted. In Houston, the vast majority of people who obtain expunctions in theft cases do so because their case was dismissed. You are also eligible for an expunction if you completed a deferred adjudication probation (not a regular probation) for a Class “C” theft (under $100). Under Texas law, there are a few other situations where a person could be eligible for an expunction but these would rarely be applicable in a theft of shoplifting case. An experienced theft expunction attorney can help you verify your eligibility for an expunction.
If you are eligible for expunction, then an expunction attorney can determine whether there is a waiting period before the expunction can be granted. In many cases, the District Attorney can object to an expunction being granted before the statute of limitations expires (the statute of limitations is a time period the State has to file a case). Fortunately, it most theft or shoplifting arrests in Houston, the District Attorney does not typically object to an expunction filed before the statute of limitations period.
When am I not eligible for an expunction of my theft case?
If you are convicted (found guilty) of a theft case, then unfortunately, you will not be able to have your records expunged. This includes situations where you pled guilty and received a jail sentence or “time served.” Additionally, if you completed a probation for anything other than a Class “C” deferred, you will not be eligible to have your theft case expunged.
Am I eligible for an expunction if I completed a Retail Theft Intervention Program (RTIP)?
In Houston, many defendants have their shoplifting cases dismissed after completing the Harris County Retail Theft Intervention Program (RTIP). The RTIP program is a 90-day program run by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office for defendants with no criminal history who are accused of shoplifting from retail stores like Wal-Mart or Target. The RTIP program results in a dismissal of the theft case if the program is completed successfully. Successful completion of the RTIP program would make a defendant eligible to have an expunction immediately upon completion of the program.
What is the process like to obtain an expunction of a theft case?
If you are interested in having your theft case expunged, the first thing to do is to determine your edibility. As noted above, your case must have been dismissed or you must have been found not guilty to quality for an expunction (there are other unusual situations that could entitle you to an expunction, such as a pardon by a higher court, but these are very rare in theft cases).
Once an expunction attorney verifies your eligibility, the next step is for the attorney to prepare a petition, which contains information relating to your theft arrest and the law enforcement agencies that were involved in the arrest. It is very important that the petition filed by an expunction attorney contain accurate and precise information relating to the person arrested and the agencies involved.
After a hearing (unless the hearing is waived by the District Attorney’s office), the judge will then sign an order which the expunction attorney circulates to all the agencies listed on the petition, ordering them to destroy any record of the arrest. Once the judge signs the order, agencies named have up to a year to destroy the records.
An expunction can be a lengthy process, and as a result, it is advisable to apply for an expunction as soon as you are eligible. At Ceja Law Firm, we take pride in helping our clients clear their name after a theft or shoplifting arrest. If you are interested in obtaining an expunction of your theft or shoplifting case, call Ceja Law Firm today to schedule a free consultation.