How to Expunge Your Case in Houston

Woman in handcuffs

If you have been arrested for any criminal offense, many people do not know that it will remain on your record forever unless you take steps to erase it. It’s a common misconception that dismissed charges automatically fall off your criminal record after a certain amount of time. Fortunately, it is possible to erase certain arrest records from your criminal history with an expunction. An expunction results in records of your arrest being destroyed. Once your case is expunged, the records relating to the arrest are physically destroyed and you can even deny the existence of the arrest in most instances. Additionally, a record of the arrest will not appear on most criminal history searches. 

Interpreting and applying the laws in this area of law and navigating the court process is complicated.  Hiring an experienced attorney makes clearing your criminal record easier and increases the chance of successfully having your record expunged. Ceja Law Firm has a proven track record of successfully assisting clients to obtain expunctions and clear their names throughout the Greater Houston area.  

What is an expunction?

Under Texas law, an expunction is a court order that requires law enforcement, county, and district agencies to destroy records related to a qualifying arrest. Essentially, an expunction is like a lawsuit against any agency that holds a record of your arrest, ordering them to destroy the record. In Texas, an expunction is the best way to clear your criminal history and ensure that you do not suffer any negative consequences of an arrest in a criminal case. 

Am I eligible to get my case expunged?

If you are interested in obtaining an expunction of your criminal case, the first thing that you must do is determine whether you are eligible. Most people who obtain expunction do so after their case was dismissed or they are acquitted (found “not guilty”) at trial, but there are several other situations that would make a person eligible. An experienced expunction attorney may be able to determine your eligibility for an expunction by looking at your criminal history. 

By law, only arrests that had certain outcomes are eligible for an expunction. If you were convicted or placed on deferred adjudication for any offense (except a Class “C” misdemeanor deferred, which is the only form of probation that is eligible for an expunction) you are not eligible for an expunction. Under Texas law, you may qualify for an expunction if one of the following applies to you:

  1. You were not convicted of the offense, the offense is no longer pending, and one of the following applies to your case:
    1. You were not formally charged with the offense
      1. There are waiting periods.
    2. The charges were dismissed because you:
      1. completed veterans’ treatment court, mental health court, or pretrial intervention; 
      2. the charging instrument is void; or 
      3. there is no probable cause to believe you committed the offense; 
    3. You completed deferred adjudication for a Class C misdemeanor; or
    4. The statute of limitations has expired.
  2. You were tried for the offense and found not guilty 
  3. You were convicted of the offense but then received a pardon by a higher court 
  4. You were convicted of unlawful carry of a weapon prior to September 1, 2021
  5. Someone used your identity without your permission when they were arrested
  6. The District Attorney’s Office agrees to the expunction 

As you can see, the law relating to expunctions can be somewhat complicated and confusing so it is a good idea to speak to an experienced expunction attorney to verify your eligibility for an expunction.

What arrests do not qualify for an expunction?

As noted above, if you have been convicted of any offense (either because you pled guilty or were found guilty after a trial), you may not obtain an expunction of your records. Additionally, if you were placed on probation or deferred adjudication probation (unless you completed a deferred adjudication probation for a Class “C” offense), you may not have your records expunged. 

What are the benefits of an expunction?

In many ways, obtaining an expunction is the best possible result in a criminal case as it results in records relating to your arrest being destroyed. Once your expunction is complete, you will be able to deny the existence of the arrest and even deny ever having the case expunged (the narrow exception to this is that if you are asked about an expunged matter while you are under oath, you may say that the matter has been expunged). 

After your records are destroyed, your arrest will not appear on most criminal history searches and you will not have to list the arrest on housing, licensing or job applications. In short, being able to clear your records with an expunction could make a huge difference in helping you put the arrest behind you, especially for something on your driving record like a DWI. An additional benefit is that if you are ever in trouble again, law enforcement may not be able to see that you were arrested for the offense. 

If you are not a United States citizen, you should consult with an immigration attorney regarding the effect of an expunction on your immigration case and your responsibilities to disclose the arrest under Federal Immigration law. For example, if you are undocumented and applying for relief through USCIS, then you should consult an immigration attorney about whether or not to include the arrest. 

What is the waiting period for an expunction?

Even though your case is dismissed, or are eligible for an expunction for some other reason, it is possible that you will have to wait before beginning the process of getting your records expunged. For example, if you were charged with theft, and the case was dismissed, it is possible that you may have to wait until the statute of limitations period has expired. The statute of limitations period is the time in which the State of Texas could re-file a criminal case. 

Under Texas law, it is possible that you will have to wait until the Statute of Limitations period has elapsed (for a misdemeanor theft case, the statute of limitations period is two years). In Houston, the Harris County District Attorney’s office will sometimes permit expunctions before the statute of limitations period has elapsed, but this is something that an expunction attorney should verify with the District Attorney’s office before an expunction is filed. In addition to determining your eligibility for an expunction, an experienced expunction attorney will be able to tell you whether there is a waiting period, and whether you might be able to obtain an expunction of your case before the waiting period has elapsed. 

What is the expunction process like?

As noted above, the first step to getting your records expunged is determining your eligibility. Once an expunction attorney determines that you are eligible, the next step is preparing a petition (which includes the case information and the basis for the expunction), which is filed with the civil district court. The court then sets the case for a hearing. The District Clerk then sends notice to all the agencies listed in the petition. In some cases, you are able to submit an agreed order prior to the hearing. In other cases, you must appear at the hearing. 

How long does the expunction process take?

Because an expunction involves ensuring that many law enforcement agencies destroy records relating to an arrest, it can be a relatively slow process. In the Houston area, an expunction can take as long as six months from the time an expunction is filed until the judge signs the final order. Once the judge signs the order, the agencies named in the order then have up to 1 year to destroy the records (although in practice, it can take less than that).  In order to speed up the process, at Ceja Law Firm, we advise our clients to begin the expunction process as soon as our clients are eligible. 

Properly handling an expunction can be time consuming and require effectively navigate the civil justice system. However, due to the many benefits of obtaining an expunction, the effort and time to clear your record and put an arrest behind you is worth it. Ceja Law Firm regularly helps clients in the Houston area expunge their records and clear their name. If you are interested in obtaining an expunction of your criminal records, call Ceja Law Firm today.