"A few years ago, my boyfriend was convicted of armed robbery. He wasn't the main person involved. In fact, he didn't even know what happened as he was just giving a ride to a so-called friend and got caught up in a bad situation. He was 24 when he was sentenced and did 5 years in prison. Now he's out, and will soon turn 30 and has completely been on the straight and narrow but has found problems with employment because of his conviction. How can he get that arrest record erased or sealed?"
D. White, Houston, TX
Charles F. Coleman, Jr: I hate to be the bearer of bad news, buuuuut I’m afraid I may have some bad news. This is probably what I like least about the law; even after a person has paid their debt to society, their actions often stay with them. I’m afraid that there are some fairly stark realities that your man will have to face as part of his current predicament. I completely understand that he wasn’t the one who conceived the robbery plot but what likely happened is that he was convicted under an “acting in concert” theory. You may have heard this more commonly referred to as being an accomplice. Whether he actually intended to drive the getaway car, if a jury found that he “aided or abetted” the main actor in the commission of the crime or profited from any of the proceeds, he can be held just as guilty as the person who took whatever was stolen. Definitely not what friends are for.
Anyhow, on to the expungement question. Expungement refers to the process of sealing arrest and conviction records. Many states have different rules on the requirements to have a case sealed. Generally, the older a person is and the more serious a crime, the less likely that someone will be able to get a conviction expunged from their record. If a person commits a crime as a juvenile, petitioning to the court clerk for the case to be sealed is the first step, and usually all that is needed to have most criminal records expunged. Similarly, if someone is convicted of a drug-related offense and sentenced to a diversionary program rather than jail time, successful completion of the program may be a what is needed to have that offense expunged from their record.
In this case, expungement will likely not be an option for your boyfriend. He was not a juvenile at the time the crime was committed, he was convicted for the offense, and he served jail time. The state of Texas does provide some exceptions for record expungment but it does not appear that his facts match any of them. For readers in other jurisdictions with similar questions, here’s a site with specific state-by-state guidance for what the laws are related to expungement.
I also totally get that your boyfriend is having some difficulty securing work with this conviction. Having a criminal record can be a serious obstacle to getting employment. In case you haven’t seen it already, this is a piece I wrote which contains some helpful tips on what to do in that situation. Hopefully he can consult that and use it as a means of helping him find work in the near future. Good luck!
Charles F. Coleman Jr. is a former Kings County (Brooklyn), NY prosecutor and presently functions as a federal trial attorney specializing in civil rights and employment discrimination. Follow him on Twitter @CFColemanJr.
Nothing in this column should be construed as legal advice, and is offered as information only. Readers are advised to consult an attorney with knowledge of the specific state laws within their local jurisdictions.