Most people assume that the criminal justice system in Texas is fair, or at least makes sense. It’s only when they get arrested do they discover how FUBAR this “justice” system can be. Here is one example, say you get arrested for a DWI, you end up pleading to a traffic ticket, and the State dismisses the DWI case. You’d think you could have that DWI case expunged right? WRONG.
The Dallas Court of Appeals recently ruled on that very issue in No. 05-18-00348-CV.
The Defendant was arrested for DWI in Gillespie County. As part of a plea bargain, the DWI was dismissed and the Defendant pled guilty only to illegal parking. Later the Defendant wanted this DWI off her record, after all, it was dismissed so that seems reasonable right? Yeah, not so much.
From the Opinion-
An expunction under article 55.01(a)(2) is unavailable if the petitioner’s arrest leads to a final conviction on any charge. See G.B.E., 459 S.W.3d at 626–30. We presume that if the Legislature wished to permit persons to expunge records related to a particular charge resulting from an arrest without expunging all records of the arrest itself, it would have included language with that meaning in the statute. See S.J., 438 S.W.3d at 843. [Defendant] was originally arrested and charged with DWI. As part of a plea agreement, she pleaded guilty to a Class C parking offense. Thus, the charge resulted in a final conviction rendering [Defendant’s] arrest records ineligible for expunction.
Make sure, before you take any plea bargain, that your lawyer explains the consequences for expunction down the road. Getting a DWI dismissed is always a good deal, but if your goal is to have the arrest expunged, then you might want to consider your trial options. Speaking of arrests, the court spends some time discussing our “arrest based” system for expunctions.
Here’s some more from the opinion-
Texas courts have held that article 55.01 requires an “arrest-based” approach to expunction because it authorizes expunging only the records and files relating to an arrest rather than an individual charge that resulted from an arrest. See V.E. v. Travis County Dist. Attorney, 500 S.W.3d 652, 655–56 (Tex. App.—Austin 2016, no pet.); Ex parte Vega, 510 S.W.3d 544, 548 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi 2016, no pet.); In re Expunction, 465 S.W.3d 283, 290 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist. 2015, no pet.); S.J. v. State, 438 S.W.3d 838, 845–46 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 2014, no pet.); Dicken, 415 S.W.3d at 480. In other words, an expunction under article 55.01(a)(2) is unavailable if the petitioner’s arrest leads to a final conviction on any charge. See G.B.E., 459 S.W.3d at 626–30.
It doesn’t have to be this way, we could allow dismissed cases to be expunged even when it results in a plea to something else. After all, if a case is dismissed, it’s not because the State had a great case against some awful criminal. It’s the opposite in most cases. That the case had some fundamental flaws in it, and the gap between probable cause and beyond a reasonable doubt could not be bridged at trial. Reducing a case to a traffic ticket isn’t a sign of a great case for the State.
With more and more records going online, it’s the right thing to do to let people have dismissed cases expunged. In this case, F deserved that opportunity, but for some poor legislative decisions, she was denied it. I hope in the future this DWI case will be expunged.