So you have been arrested and you are worried about how this will affect “your record”? Well, you should be. In Texas, convictions last forever. And by forever, I mean it’s on your record until you get a pardon but in Texas we don’t really do pardons because our Governors hate defendants so, forever. However, part of our defense strategy is finding a way to minimize what records are available when you case ends. So let’s start with what exactly is your “record?” When people talk about their record they usually assume there is some formal criminal history branch of the government , perhaps in Austin, that has all the bads thing you done in a file somewhere.
Not exactly, whenever you make contact with the criminal justice system in Texas records are created. When you are arrested there is a mugshot, bond paperwork, arrest affidavit etc. Those are all public records. When you are case is filed more records are created. There is an information or indictment, a file at the clerk’s office with more information about your case, and perhaps some online information that the county provides.
Part of your defense lawyer’s job is finding outcomes that maximize your ability to get rid of these documents. For example, if you get deferred adjudication probation in Texas you are not eligible for an expunction, but you may he eligible for a non disclosure (having your records sealed). Some offenses can not be placed on deferred probation (DWI etc). So if you want your DWI “off your record” at the end of the case, you may have to have a trial and hope for a not guilty verdict because not guilty verdicts can be expunged.
It’s one reason I encourage clients to participate in pre trial diversion programs if they are offered. Because pre trial diversion cases can be expunged as well (in Dallas they call this a conditional dismissal or memo agreement).
Another component of your record is what shows when the case is finalized. That is, how does the judgment read and how will that affect your future employment chances? For example, if you are on deferred probation you have plead guilty (or no contest) but you have not been found guilty. So if a job application asks you about convictions, you can say you don’t have any. But if a job applications asks about arrests or pleading guilty, then you will have to provide details.
This is also another reason to hire a lawyer immediately after you are arrested. If you get a lawyer on the case right away there is a greater chance that a positive result can be achieved before the case is filed. Preventing a case from being filed, or having the charges reduced before they are filed is a big win. For example, we had a case recently where a client was facing a potential 25-99 year prison term on an assault charge. We got started right after the arrest and worked out a misdemeanor diversion early. We had the case investigated and ready to present to the prosecutor before the prosecutor had even had a chance to look at the file. If we had not been hired early, then the State could have indicted our client on life in prison felony, and those records would have been out there until we got the case finalized.
Your criminal record is one of the most important aspects of the plea bargain process and your defense lawyer should be able to explain what your options are if you are accept any deal. Remember that deferred cases can not be expunged, and that if you are concerned about your criminal history hire a lawyer immediately after you become a suspect.