In Dallas County, a Program Offers the Chance to Clear Your Record

The number of applications for Dallas' annual expunction expo dipped down to 575 in 2020 because of the pandemic. This year, the program came roaring back with over 1,300 applications in just one week.
The number of applications for Dallas' annual expunction expo dipped down to 575 in 2020 because of the pandemic. This year, the program came roaring back with over 1,300 applications in just one week. Getty Images
Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot knows how important a clean slate can be for someone trying to start over. Even if a person isn't convicted, charges on their record could cost them a good job, a house or the opportunity to enroll in college.

“It’s an opportunity to help people clear their record when legally allowed," Creuzot said. "This can help them in their search for a job or housing, which is a benefit to them and a benefit to the community."

That's why Dallas County offers an annual expunction event, at which people can apply to wipe their slate clean. Along with a similar program in Tarrant County, the expunction program is now entering its fifth year.

In Dallas, the program has partnered with the district clerk, the public defender, the city of Dallas and the law clinics at Southern Methodist University and the University of North Texas at Dallas, Creuzot added.

In most cases, getting a criminal record expunged can be both complicated and costly, which is why several states have streamlined the process in recent years.

Eleven states have automatic record expungement laws, according to Collateral Consequences Resource Center, a nonprofit organization that provides resources for people facing restrictions because of criminal records. In these states, the criteria includes how many convictions they have and the types of crimes they've committed.

Meanwhile, a national group called Clean Slate has helped write and lobby for more laws allowing records to be cleared and expunged. Their efforts started in Pennsylvania, which became the first to pass a statewide automatic records clearing bill in 2018. Since the bill was enacted, the state has cleared more than 36 million criminal cases.

This year, two Texas bills aimed to tackle the problem by preventing courts and police departments, for instance, from sharing certain criminal records, among other measures. The bills would have blocked landlords and employers from seeing minor, nonviolent offenses during background checks, but neither reached Gov. Greg Abbott's desk.

But there are options in Dallas and Tarrant counties. Although this year's deadline in Tarrant County has already passed, Dallas County is still accepting applications until July 26. In only one week, more than 1,300 applications were submitted for Dallas County's Expunction Expo.

The program helps eligible people clear their Dallas County criminal offenses with help from volunteer lawyers at no cost. Usually, expunction fees clock in at around $600, while legal fees can top $3,000. Cases where an arrest is made, but no criminal charges are filed will still show up on a person’s criminal background check unless there’s an expunction.

But not everyone is eligible. To have a record expunged, there are certain conditions. In one scenario, the applicant would need to have been arrested but not charged, or a grand jury would have needed to "no bill" the charges. In another, the charges would need to have been dismissed without community supervision or probation, although that doesn't apply to Class C offenses.

In a third possibility, a judge or a jury would need to have acquitted the applicant. Finally, the applicant could get their record wiped clean if the Texas governor or the U.S. president pardoned them.

The program will notify individuals whether or not they qualify by Sept. 3.

Staff members at the district clerk's office are working overtime to help people apply for the program, including those without internet access.

“For many that I have personally spoken with, they simply want to clear their name,” Dallas County District Clerk Felicia Pitre said in a press release.

While the program has received a record number of applications this year, it’s only been responsible for 942 expunged cases since first being offered in 2017. That year, 700 applications were submitted, 300 were prequalified and there were 129 expunctions.

A spokesperson for the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office said this is because a lot of people who apply do not qualify for expunction. “But those who may are invited to the next step, which is where they will be paired with an attorney,” the spokesperson said. “There is no cap [on the expunctions]. It's simply a matter of which cases legally qualify.”
KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn