SCoTx HOLDS A SECOND PART OF THE EXPUNCTION STATUTE TO BE “OFFENSE-BASED” RATHER THAN “ARREST-BASED”

Ex parte R.P.G.P.
Supreme Court of Texas, No. 19-1051 (May 14, 2021)
Justice Guzman (Opinion, linked here), Justice Bland Dissenting (Opinion linked here)
Expunction is a statutory civil remedy that, when applicable, largely erases the record of an individual's arrest. It allows one who has been arrested to “deny the occurrence of the arrest and [deny even] the existence of the expunction order” itself, except in a criminal proceeding. It also prohibits governmental and private entities named in the expunction order from maintaining, disseminating, or using the expunged records “for any purpose.” A court will issue an expunction order if the prerequisites and conditions specified in the statute are met. See Tex. Code Crim. Pro. art. 55.01. The statute, however, is not a model of clarity. The Supreme Court of Texas describes it as “linguistically complex and present[ing] a statutory construction challenge that courts at all levels have grappled with.”

One particularly vexing problem arises when an individual is arrested on multiple charges, one or more of which later would qualify for expunction if viewed in isolation, while others would not. Until fairly recently, most Texas courts facing that situation had held the test for expunction to be “arrest-based” rather than “offense-based”—that is, if any of the multiple offenses for which the petitioner was arrested did not qualify for expunction, then none covered by that same arrest could be expunged. In 2018, however, the Supreme Court held that Article 55.01(a)(1)—which authorizes expunction on the basis of acquittal or pardon—is “offense-based” rather than “arrest-based,” such that an individual arrested on multiple charges could obtain “partial expunction” and redaction of arrest records for the charges on which he was acquitted or pardoned, even if other charges entailed in the same arrest did not qualify for that relief. State v. T.S.N., 547 S.W.3d 617 (Tex. 2018).

In R.P.G.P., the Court dropped the second shoe, answering a question left open in T.S.N. R.P.G.P. deals with Article 55.01(a)(2), which concerns potential expunction in the context of dismissals and plea bargains. Although that provision has different requirements and conditions than Article 55.01(a)(1), addressed in T.S.N., the Supreme Court reached the same conclusion as in T.S.N., guided by that prior decision—an intricate analysis of the language of the statute compels the determination that “Article 55.01(a)(2) is an offense-based expunction provision and with respect to misdemeanor offenses, the proviso [or condition] in Article 55.01(a)(2)(A) is also offense-based.” Said another way, “the statute recognizes that [a single] arrest for multiple offenses is the functional equivalent of individual arrests for each individual offense,” each of which should be evaluated on its own for expunction purposes under Article 55.01(a)(2).

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