Although 17-year-olds in Texas are not allowed to vote, buy cigarettes, serve on a jury, join the military, or enter into a binding contract, they can be charged as adults in criminal matters and even sent to prison. Irene Andrews, now 22 years old, found herself being charged as an adult when she was 17. Still in high school and forced to defend herself against the typical cause of most teenage angst, school bullies, she fell into a confrontational situation with some of her peers that led to her arrest for assault. While Irene is far from proud of the fight she was involved in, she is ready to move on with her life without this record preventing her from reaching her full potential. She is currently in school working to earn a Bachelor’s degree.
The Texas Government Code Section 411.081 allows an individual who has successfully completed probation (or deferred adjudication community supervision) to petition the court that placed him/her on probation for an order of nondisclosure. An order of nondisclosure prohibits criminal justice agencies from disclosing to the public the criminal history record information related to the offense that is the subject of the petition. Criminal history record information subject to an order of nondisclosure is exempt from the required disclosure under the Texas Public Information Act.
Successfully completing probation (or deferred adjudication community supervision) is required in order to get an order of nondisclosure approved by a judge. But, Irene’s case wasn’t black and white. Irene was arrested a few months after she completed her probationary period, which would normally disqualify her from such a benefit. The reason for her arrest: protesting on behalf of raising the minimum wage for all low-wage workers, especially those of color. Irene applied for legal assistance with Lone Star Legal Aid and was assigned to attorney Fallon Hamilton in the Civil Matters in Criminal Justice Project. Attorney Hamilton reviewed Irene’s criminal record and believed that if given a chance to explain Irene’s subsequent arrest, a judge might grant an order of nondisclosure for her.
At the hearing, the prosecutor contested the petition for nondisclosure claiming that Irene was not eligible as she was arrested within the two years following the completion of her deferred adjudication. Attorney Hamilton knew that this client deserved a chance to be heard despite the objection of the prosecution and asked to approach the bench and provide testimony as to Irene’s criminal past and how despite her violation of probation, she should be granted a nondisclosure. The judge agreed, granted the petition for nondisclosure, and Irene was ecstatic! She no longer dreads the “have you ever been convicted of a crime” question listed on apartment applications as well as applications for jobs and school. As of the date of the signed order, Irene’s records will be sealed from all criminal record databases.
*Names were changed to protect the client’s identity.