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Should Texas automatically expunge criminal records?

On Behalf of | Apr 23, 2021 | Criminal Defense

A criminal conviction is a serious matter that can have long-term repercussions on the life of a Texas resident. That is because convictions can linger on individuals’ criminal records for the entirety of their lifetimes if they do not take the proactive steps to have their convictions hidden from public view through expungement. The expungement process itself is cumbersome and is not accessible to all who need it.

Some states in the country have created legislation that allows individuals with criminal records to have their convictions automatically expunged without any action on their part. There are definite benefits to these laws, but as of yet Texas does not have an automatic expungement law on its books. This post will examine what the state of Michigan has done with its automatic expungement law and how it may serve as a model to Texas to implement a similar process.

Why expungements matter

As mentioned, criminal records can last forever. Whether a person has been convicted of a misdemeanor or a felony, the record of their alleged wrongdoing is often permanently preserved in the public record and discoverable during background checks. That means it can appear when the individual applies for a job, seeks housing, or wants to get benefits.

Criminal records are barriers to men and women who have paid their debts to society and who are living productive and crime free lives. They do not let individuals escape their pasts unless those individuals begin the sometimes long process of having their records cleaned up, or expunged. Expungement often requires legal support and the process may not be accessible to everyone who needs it.

Michigan’s automatic expungement model

Last year, Michigan’s legislators passed a bill that allows individuals to have their criminal records automatically expunged. They do not have to do anything to initiate the process. Expungements are set on a timeline after the individuals’ convictions:

  • 7 years post-conviction for misdemeanors.
  • 10 years post-conviction for felonies or
  • 10 years post-completion of felony sentence, whichever is later.

Automatic expungements eliminate the burdens of taking action, expending time and money, and engaging with the criminal legal system for people who are already carrying the weight of their convictions. Time will tell if this law has positive outcomes for the population it intends to serve.

Automatic expungements in Texas

As of now, Texas does not process automatic expungements. Those who wish to expunge their criminal records from the public must do so the old-fashioned way. When they are ready, men and women who have criminal convictions on their records can contact their trusted criminal defense attorneys for help with the expungement process.