Another avenue to a fresh start after deferred adjudication
by Royce West
It was 2003, now 11 years and five legislative sessions removed since the passage of the first legislation that allows the records of a person who has successfully completed deferred adjudication in Texas to be sealed from public disclosure. And while the records of all offenses where deferred was offered and completed are not eligible to be sealed, to date more than 33,820 petitioners have taken advantage of this opportunity for a fresh start. Still, there remains much more to be done to improve state laws that regulate access to criminal history records.
Deferred adjudication is a judicial option available under Texas law to defendants, prosecutors and the courts in criminal cases. It is a form of community supervision — more commonly called probation — that when successfully completed, results in the charges related to the offense being officially dismissed. However unlike with regular probation, the defendant does not receive a conviction. In Texas, a conviction is most likely a permanent entry on a person's criminal history record. There are few to no options at that point to wipe the slate clean.
As many who have applied for a job or filled out an application for an apartment have discovered, although there is no conviction, under deferred, the records of the offense remain in the public domain. And even though the charges have been dismissed, certain state occupational licenses can be denied as well as opportunities for employment. The order of nondisclosure was designed to take some of the sting out of a criminal case disposition and offer a fresh start for those who wish to put their mistakes behind them in pursuit of more productive lifestyles.
During the 2013 legislative session we were able to pass into law SB107, a bill that closes a loophole in the dissemination of criminal history records in cases where an order of nondisclosure has been issued. The loophole would allow the notification process performed by the Texas Department of Public Safety when an order of nondisclosure has been issued to be bypassed by allowing criminal history records to be purchased directly from the courts. Without that notice, a record that has been sealed through an order of nondisclosure remains accessible to the public.
In the final weeks of the legislative session, we were able to amend the language of a separate bill onto SB107. The new language amended from SB977 created an online petition that will allow a person to file for an order of nondisclosure without hiring an attorney. Let that sink in.
Since 2002, caller after frustrated caller have contacted my office complaining they were told that if they accepted deferred adjudication, the charges would not appear on their record. It was the inspiration for SB1477 that first created the order of nondisclosure. The next complaint from many callers is that, 'I don't have a job, so I can't afford an attorney.' SB107 goes a long way in lowering the financial barriers to a chance for a new start. It requires only payment of court costs and a $28 fee.
Those who want to access the online petition for an order of nondisclosure can search the website of the Texas Office of Court Administration (OCA). On the OCA's home page find Publications, forms and online information. Click on model forms.
From there, you will find information that explains eligibility for an order of nondisclosure along with a model petition and instructions on completing the petition. The form can be filed online or downloaded and sent by mail to the district clerk of the county where the offense was adjudicated. There is also contact information for the Office of Court Administration.
You, the citizens of Texas and my constituents identified a problem. It was through your input that I've attempted to provide a solution that will open doors and help those who want help in finding their way back to self-sufficiency and productive lives. And by the way, did you know that persons who have successfully completed deferred adjudication are also now eligible to receive a pardon?
For more information, please contact Kelvin Bass at 214-467-0123.