Can a Criminal Defense Lawyer Help if My Disposition Is Sealed or Expunged?
Can a Criminal Defense Lawyer Help if My Disposition Is Sealed or Expunged?
Having a criminal record can make many aspects of life more difficult, from finding a job to securing housing. Fortunately, in some cases it is possible to seal or expunge criminal records in Texas. This means the records are hidden from public view or destroyed entirely.If you are wondering whether a criminal defense lawyer can still help you if your record has already been sealed or expunged, the answer is yes. Here’s an overview of how sealing and expungement work in Texas, as well as how an attorney can still assist you.
Understanding Sealing and Expungement in Texas
There are two main ways to remove a criminal record from public view in Texas: sealing and expungement. Here’s a quick rundown of how each process works:
- Sealing – Also called an order of nondisclosure, sealing hides a criminal record from the public but does not destroy it. Government agencies like law enforcement can still view sealed records. Individuals who complete deferred adjudication probation are often eligible to have records sealed.
- Expungement – Expungement physically destroys arrest and court records related to a charge. Common situations allowing expungement include acquittals, pardons, dismissal of charges, and arrests where no charges were filed.
It’s important to note eligibility for sealing and expungement depends on the type of offense and other factors. An experienced criminal defense attorney can advise whether your specific situation allows record clearing.
How Lawyers Can Still Help After Sealing or Expungement
Even if your record has already been sealed or expunged, a criminal defense lawyer can provide valuable assistance in several ways:
- Ensuring the process was completed correctly – There are precise steps that must be followed to properly seal or expunge a record in Texas. An attorney can review your case and confirm the courts, law enforcement, and other agencies have correctly updated their records.
- Addressing any lingering issues – Sometimes problems occur even after a record is sealed or expunged. For example, a background check company may still show the offense, or an employer may have found out about it another way. A lawyer can help resolve these types of issues.
- Advising on disclosure – In certain situations, you may need to disclose a sealed or expunged offense on applications or in interviews. Your attorney can offer guidance on when disclosure is required or recommended.
- Handling new charges – Unfortunately, it’s possible to pick up additional charges even after clearing a past record. Defense counsel can defend against new accusations and, if needed, try to seal or expunge the latest offense.
- Providing general legal advice – Beyond record clearing itself, a criminal lawyer can answer questions about the implications of your specific offense and your rights going forward. Their expertise can prove invaluable.
The bottom line is sealing or expunging a record does not necessarily mean you’ll never need legal help again. There are many ways a knowledgeable attorney can still assist you.
The Sealing and Expungement Process in Texas
To better understand how defense lawyers remain useful even after disposition, it helps to look at how sealing and expungement work in the Lone Star State. The processes are precisely defined by statutes and court rules.
Eligibility for Sealing and Expungement
The type of offense, as well as other factors like criminal history, determine whether record clearing is an option under Texas law. Some key eligibility rules include:
- Deferred adjudication – Those who complete deferred adjudication probation can petition for sealing after a certain waiting period. The offense cannot be a felony involving violence or sex.
- Dismissals – Records can be expunged for charges that were dismissed, except certain deferred adjudication cases. Acquittals also allow expungement.
- No charges filed – If arrested but not formally charged, expungement of the arrest record is possible after a waiting period.
- Pardons – A full pardon from the governor or president permits expungement.
Meeting the eligibility criteria is essential. A lawyer will know how to make the right arguments to pursue sealing or expungement.
The Petition Process
Sealing and expungement cannot happen automatically—you must petition the court even if eligible. The process includes:
- Filing the petition – This initiates the court’s review of your expungement or sealing request. Your attorney will handle paperwork and submissions.
- Serving notice – The petition must be properly served on the prosecutor’s office and any other agencies involved in your case.
- Attending court hearings – Most petitions require at least one hearing so the judge can ask questions before deciding. Your lawyer will represent you at hearings.
- Drafting a court order – If approved, your attorney will prepare a sealing or expungement order for the judge’s signature directing relevant agencies to clear records.
- Confirming compliance – Lawyers have resources to verify agencies like the Texas Department of Public Safety have followed the court’s orders.
Mistakes anywhere along the way can jeopardize sealing or expungement. Relying on a lawyer well-versed in this process is crucial.
After Sealing or Expungement Is Granted
Once the court approves a sealing or expungement order, additional steps help ensure your record is cleared. Activities may include:
- Checking databases – Background check companies, court record aggregators, and other databases should remove sealed/expunged cases. Lawyers know how to get offenses deleted.
- Updating law enforcement – Police, prosecutors, jails, and probation departments must update internal records to reflect sealing or expungement. Attorneys make sure they comply.
- Addressing violations – If an employer, landlord, or someone else improperly accesses or shares your sealed record, your lawyer can intervene to stop further violations.
- Providing compliance letters – Courts can issue letters confirming your record clearance that may be needed for jobs, housing, school applications, and other purposes.
Don’t assume everything will happen automatically once a judge approves expungement or sealing. Follow-up helps optimize the benefits.
Specific Ways Lawyers Remain Helpful
Now that you understand the overall sealing and expungement process in Texas, let’s look at some specific examples of how defense attorneys continue providing value:
Confirming Successful Sealing or Expungement
One of the most common reasons to consult a lawyer after record clearing is to confirm the process was completed correctly. Your attorney has access to tools and resources ordinary citizens lack for verifying compliance.For instance, attorneys can search law enforcement computer networks to ensure arrest and disposition data no longer appears. They can also contact prosecutors, courts, and other agencies directly to validate records were updated per the court order.If any entity failed to clear your record as required, your lawyer can take action by filing motions to compel compliance. But you need an attorney in the first place to catch these problems. Self-checking is difficult without access to all the necessary systems.
Fixing Lingering Record Issues
In some cases, problems linger even after the courts seal or expunge a record. Examples include:
- A background check company’s report still showing the offense.
- An employer, school, or landlord finding out about the record from another source.
- Court records not being fully deleted during expungement.
- Arrest information remaining in law enforcement databases.
- Probation or supervision conditions remaining in effect.
Defense lawyers have the expertise to resolve these issues. For instance, they can contact background check firms to demand removal of sealed cases under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Or they can ask the court for an order forcing an agency to comply with expungement.Don’t let sealing or expungement give you a false sense of security—problems can still arise. Let an attorney address any lingering record issues.
Advising on Record Disclosure
One complexity many people overlook is that disclosing a sealed or expunged offense is still required in some circumstances. For example:
- Job applications for government agencies, law enforcement, national security roles, and other sensitive positions.
- College and graduate school applications in some cases.
- Applications for state licenses and certificates.
- Security clearance background checks.
- Lawsuits and testimony under oath.
Deciding when to disclose can be tricky after sealing or expungement. It depends on the specifics of your offense, the organization asking, and the type of application.An attorney experienced in record clearing cases can provide invaluable advice on when disclosure is obligatory or recommended. This helps avoid accusations of dishonesty or fraud.
Defending New Charges
Unfortunately, it’s possible to face new criminal allegations even after clearing past records. If this happens, your defense lawyer remains essential for fighting the latest charges.The good news is sealed or expunged offenses typically cannot be used against you in court if you face new charges. But don’t count on prosecutors to ignore old convictions that were supposed to be destroyed through expungement. An assertive attorney must keep your record off-limits.Beyond defending the new case, counsel can pursue sealing or expungement of additional convictions that may result. Your lawyer’s assistance does not end with clearing your initial record.
Answering Legal Questions
Finally, a criminal lawyer remains an excellent resource for answering any legal questions tied to your case. Examples include:
- How will my offense impact applications for employment, housing, or education?
- Do I have to disclose the incident when asked about criminal history?
- What responses can I provide if asked about my background?
- What are the long-term effects of this conviction under Texas law?
- What sentence could I have faced if not sealed or expunged?
- Am I still eligible for student loans and government benefits?
- Can my sealed or expunged record ever be used against me?
- Do I have to register as a sex offender or meet other requirements?
Even basic legal questions are complex to research yourself. Save time and frustration by having a lawyer clarify the implications of your criminal matter.
Why Risk Do-It-Yourself Record Clearing?
As this discussion shows, sealing and expungement are complex processes with strict rules and limitations. Without legal expertise, it’s almost impossible to achieve reliable record clearing on your own.Don’t risk the consequences of incomplete sealing or expungement caused by procedural mistakes. The cost is too high if background checks, employers, or the public can still access your record.Likewise, don’t leave lingering issues and questions unresolved because you assume everything is fine once the court approves expungement or sealing. Follow-up action is essential.Instead, put your trust in a seasoned criminal defense attorney who regularly handles sealing and expungement cases. Their legal knowledge and resources will optimize your chances of successfully clearing your record.Even after your disposition is sealed or expunged, a lawyer remains ready to confirm compliance, fix problems, offer disclosure advice, defend new charges, and answer legal questions tied to your case. Don’t go it alone—let experienced counsel protect your rights each step of the way.
Finding the Right Criminal Defense Lawyer for Sealing and Expungement
Clearing a criminal record through sealing or expungement can be life-changing. But finding a lawyer with the right skills and experience is crucial.Here are smart tips for choosing an attorney who can successfully handle sealing and expungement of dispositions in Texas:
Look for a Record Clearing Specialist
Don’t assume any criminal defense lawyer can capably handle sealing and expungement. These niche processes have intricate rules and steps. Look for attorneys who focus specifically on record clearing and handle many expungement and sealing cases.A true record clearing specialist will advertise this service prominently on their website alongside credentials like:
- Years of experience obtaining sealing/expungement orders
- Membership in record clearing legal associations
- Client testimonials about successful record clearing
- Sample case results showing positive outcomes
- Explanatory articles and FAQs about the processes
- Attorney profiles highlighting related experience and training
Don’t risk hiring a lawyer who only handles sealing and expungement occasionally. Hire a dedicated record clearing pro.
Verify Strong Knowledge of Texas Statutes
Each state has unique laws and court rules governing record sealing and expungement eligibility. It’s essential to find a Texas lawyer who specializes in the specific statutes and precedents that apply here.Look for in-depth information on the attorney’s website about Chapter 55 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. This chapter regulates expungement eligibility and procedures.For sealing, the lawyer should discuss Chapter 411 of the Texas Government Code covering orders of nondisclosure. Mastery of the nuances of these laws is crucial.Of course, legal knowledge must be backed by real-world experience navigating Lone Star State bureaucracy. Choose counsel intimately familiar with Texas record clearing processes.
Review Representative Case Results
The ideal attorney will showcase sample sealing and expungement cases they have handled on their website. Look for examples relevant to your situation, such as:
- Deferred adjudication charges sealed after probation.
- Dismissed cases expunged from the record.
- Non-violent felonies sealed through court petitions.
- Acquittals removed through expungement orders.
- Arrests not leading to charges erased.
- Sealing/expungement of sex offenses requiring registry