By Clarissa Ayala, Lone Star Legal Aid
Although 17-year-olds in Texas cannot 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. In high school, Irene Andrews was the victim of bullying. At 17, she was arrested for assault after a confrontation with her bullies. Now, at 22, Irene is far from proud of the fight she was involved in and ready to move on with her life without her criminal record preventing her from reaching her full potential.
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 the individual on probation for an order of nondisclosure. An order of nondisclosure prohibits criminal justice agencies from disclosing the criminal history record information related to the offense to the public. Criminal history record information subject to an order of nondisclosure is exempt from the typically required disclosure under the Public Information Act.
First, successfully completing probation is required before a judge can approve an order of nondisclosure. 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. However, her arrest was for protesting to raise the minimum wage for all low-wage workers, especially those of color. Irene applied for legal assistance with Lone Star Legal Aid, and Fallon Hamilton who works for the Civil Matters in Criminal Justice Project became her attorney. 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 Irene.
At the hearing, the prosecutor contested the petition for nondisclosure claiming that Irene was not eligible due to the arrest for participating in the protest within the two years following the completion of her deferred adjudication. Despite the prosecution’s objection, Attorney Hamilton asked to approach the bench. He provided the judge with testimony of the unique nature of Irene’s criminal past and argued that, despite her violation of probation, she deserved a nondisclosure. The judge agreed, granted the petition for nondisclosure, and Irene was ecstatic!
Irene no longer dreads the “have you ever been convicted of a crime?” question listed on apartment, job, and school applications. Irene’s records have officially been sealed from all criminal record databases. Irene is currently in school working to earn a bachelor’s degree.
*Names were changed to protect the client’s identity.