“I ran into some trouble about 20 years ago or so, and my attorney just told me to plead guilty and eventually it would come off my record; how do I go about getting that expunged?”
“I didn’t have the money for a lawyer so I plead guilty to a felony; how do I buy a gun again?”
“I had a deferred adjudication; when can I get my license to carry?”
These are just a few examples of the thousands of questions we have been asked about people’s records, and that just scratches the surface. It’s a fact that the legal system is a confusing mess when it comes to how criminal histories are handled, how things on your record can impact your rights, and how things can be taken off your record.
Gordon Cooper, an attorney at the law firm of Walker & Byington, is a lawyer who has a strong focus on clearing people’s criminal histories, and helping people understand how to work around (or in some unfortunate cases, live with) their records. “It’s not uncommon for good, otherwise law-abiding individuals to have a ding on their record,” Gordon says. “Maybe it was from way back when they were a kid that didn’t know any better, maybe they couldn’t afford an attorney, or even worse, maybe the attorney they were paying didn’t explain what was going on. Regardless of how it got there, though, this is something you’ll have to deal with one way or another.”
He said there are essentially three main topics that need to be addressed in any conversation about criminal histories: what different types of courtroom outcomes mean to your criminal history, how those outcomes impact your rights, and finally the methods for cleaning up a record, if it’s possible at all. Today’s focus is on types of crimes in Texas and how they can potentially resolve.
What are the types of crimes in Texas?
Gordon said that, “In Texas, there are two categories of crimes: felonies and misdemeanors.” He went on to say that, for the purposes of a person’s gun rights, including their right to get or keep a concealed handgun license, both can have a devastating effect.
While there are different classes of felonies, all felony convictions are treated the same for purposes of determining what firearms rights a person does or does not have. However, the different classes of misdemeanors in Texas can impact a person’s firearms rights in different ways. These misdemeanors can be Class A, B, or C misdemeanors. Additionally, a finding of family violence on a misdemeanor is fundamentally different than other types of misdemeanors.
Gordon stated that while this can all get pretty confusing; the end-of-the-day list of categories of crimes that can affect your rights are:
- — felonies,
- — misdemeanors with a finding of family violence,
- — Class A, Class B, or
- — Class C misdemeanors.
What are the different outcomes in Texas?
Gordon outlined the following list which contains the most probable outcomes of a criminal charge:
– Dismissal of the charge because it is dropped by the D.A. This can happen at any point before the rendering of a verdict at the D.A.’s discretion. If the case is dismissed before the jury is sworn in, the case may be refiled and prosecuted if it is before the statute of limitations ends.
– Pre-trial diversion or intervention, sometimes also known as deferred prosecution. This is a program that is sometimes available as part of a negotiation agreement with the D.A. that results in a dismissal if the terms of the agreement are completed successfully. If a person violates the agreement, the D.A. can continue to prosecute the case against them.
– Deferred adjudication where a person pleads guilty to the crime but the judge withholds accepting the plea. Instead the court will set forth certain requirements of court supervision for a certain number of years, months, or days, which could include community service, fines, education, counseling, etc. If a person completes the court’s requirements, the case will be dismissed and no conviction will result from their guilty plea. If they violate the court’s orders, their guilty plea will be entered and they will be convicted.
– Guilty or “No Contest” pleas will have the same impact on a person’s criminal history, a conviction and sentencing. However, a no contest or “Nolo Contendre” plea cannot be considered an admission of guilt and used against them in a civil suit based on the act for which they were criminally prosecuted. You can also receive a guilty verdict after a trial that ends in a conviction.
– Acquittal, or a Not Guilty verdict, can come after trial and will restore a person’s freedom from court entanglements for that criminal charge.
Now that we know the four categories of crimes (felonies, misdemeanors with a finding of family violence, Class A or B misdemeanors, and Class C misdemeanors) and the five different outcomes (Dismissal, Pretrial Diversion, Deferred Adjudication, Guilty, or Acquittal), we can look at how these mix and match to affect your rights in Part Two of this three-part series.
Gordon Cooper is an Attorney at the law firm of Walker & Byington. If you have questions about your record, he can be reached by phone at 832-930-5944 or by e-mail at [email protected].