Understanding Criminal Records
Criminal records are not like credit history. Criminal arrests and convictions do not simply “fall off” of a person’s record. The custodian of a criminal record is prohibited by law from destroying a record unless required to do so by a court order known as an expunction. An expunction is a separate civil lawsuit that must be filed after a criminal case is disposed of. In other words, after your criminal case is over, you must return to court to seek an expunction. If you don’t, records of your arrest or conviction will exist until well after the collapse of American civilization.
There are two types of records created: an arrest record and a record of the case’s disposition. Even if you are not convicted of a crime, a record of your arrest will still exist unless expunged. Successfully completing probation or community supervision does not erase an arrest record, and, in many cases, your record will reflect a conviction for the criminal offense.
Deferred adjudication does little to protect your record. A record of your arrest will still exist, and you cannot have a deferred adjudication expunged. A process exists to have a deferred adjudication sealed from the general public, but the record still exists and law enforcement and courts can still see it.
Types of Criminal Records
There are several types of criminal records. Some exist as physical pieces of paper in a notebook, such as bond records, police reports, complaints, witness statements, etc., while others exist in computer databases.
There are three types of databases that store arrest records:
- Local agency arrest records. The arresting agency and the local sheriff’s department (if they are not the same entity) will maintain local records of every arrest made. These records include police reports, witness statements, complaints, and booking or biographical information. Many departments now keep digital copies of this information, but usually paper copies exist as well.
- Texas Records. The Texas Department of Public Safety maintains a statewide records database, sometimes referred to as CCH (computerized criminal history) or TCIC (Texas Crime Information Center). Texas Code of Criminal Procedure article 60 requires an arresting agency to report any Class B or A misdemeanor and all felony arrests. Information reported to TCIC includes arrest information, identifying information, and fingerprints.
- FBI Records. The Federal Bureau of Investigation maintains a nationwide set of criminal records known sometimes as the NCIC (National Crime Information Center). For most felony offenses, Texas DPS will forward fingerprint and identifying information to NCIC. These records include arrests and dispositions of felony offenses in all states.
When a criminal case is filed, the clerk of the court creates a record for the case. In a typical criminal case, the clerk’s record will contain the charging instrument, the appointment of counsel or letter of representation, a probable-cause affidavit or arrest-warrant affidavit, and any motions filed by the attorneys in the case. The clerk’s records are considered public information and are available to anyone.
In addition, the clerk is required by Tex. Gov’t Code § 411.135(a)(2) to report all criminal convictions and felony deferred adjudications to Texas DPS. Note that DPS does not maintain records of Class C misdemeanor convictions or Class A or B misdemeanor deferred adjudications. DPS does, however, still maintain arrest records for Class A and B misdemeanors.
Class C records are not maintained by DPS and are only retained by the court. It is of great value to you if you can have your Class A or B misdemeanor reduced to a Class C. Additionally, unlike deferred adjudication on a Class A or B misdemeanor, deferred on a Class C may be expunged.
Other Local Records
Other local agencies maintain criminal records as well. The District or County Attorney’s office will maintain records of all of their prosecutions. Additionally, pretrial services, community supervision, or court-related counseling and education agencies retain records. If you have spent any time in jail, the local sheriff’s department will also retain records. Unlike the arrest records maintained by DPS, these records are generally not available to the public, but can be made available to law enforcement, courts, or others through a court order.
Why your criminal record matters
In addition to the harm to your reputation and the social stigma associated with a criminal conviction, a criminal record may substantially impact your ability to get or keep a job. Additionally, criminal convictions may adversely impact your driver’s license, your opportunities for education, your eligibility for student loans, or your ability to hold a professional license (e.g. barber, landscape-architect, nurse, etc.).
Even if you don’t plan to seek an expunction right away, it is important that your criminal-defense attorney strives to minimize the impact of your pending criminal case on your record. A competent attorney will do everything possible to make sure that your case ends in an expugnable result.