The Sealing and Expunction Process in Texas: Resources for Those Seeking Relief

Farah Merchant

This is the first of a two-part blog series on seeking record relief in Texas. Stay tuned for the second part next week!

In Texas, a criminal record has far-reaching implications. It can prevent system-impacted people from securing housing and employment, necessary cornerstones for re-entry and a crime-free life. Nearly 75% of formerly incarcerated people remain unemployed after being released, partially due to barriers to job opportunities. Often, a record is not a measure of accountability but a lifelong sentence preventing people from moving forward from a past mistake.

Sommer Alexander is one of the many Texans who continues to face the obstacles of her record, even as she attempts to create a better life for herself and her children. After her release, Sommer moved into her partner’s house and re-enrolled in school, but when they broke up, her record barred her from finding safe housing for herself and her children. Had she received record relief, she could’ve continued pursuing a college degree while caring for her kids. Instead, she ended up in a dangerous neighborhood where she was stabbed and hospitalized and, for years, lost access to her children.

Filing a petition for nondisclosure (aka sealing) or expunction (aka clearing) are two ways to shed yourself from the undue burden of a record in Texas. An order of nondisclosure is a mechanism to seal your record from employers, landlords, and schools without erasing your record from law enforcement and other relevant state agencies, whereas an order to expunge completely erases your record.

Despite the evidence that record relief actually reduces recidivism and improves public safety, access to record sealing and clearing is incredibly restrictive. Only Texans who have been charged with  a first-time non-violent misdemeanor and have completed their sentence or instead have received and completed deferred adjudication are eligible to seal their record. Deferred adjudication refers to the process in which a defendant pleads "guilty" or "no contest" to criminal charges in exchange for meeting certain requirements (often probation, community service, or treatment program) laid out by the court, and in return the defendant does not receive an official criminal conviction on their record. Certain felonies that receive deferred adjudication also qualify for sealing (e.g., possession of less than a gram of cocaine, driving a stolen car, or assaulting someone while intoxicated ) 

Fewer people can actually clear their records. Expunctions are only available if (1) you were arrested but never charged, (2) the charges against you were dismissed without going onto formal supervision (deferred adjudication), (3) you were acquitted at trial, (4) you completed a pretrial intervention or diversion program, or (5) you have an unlawful carry of a weapon conviction. No one with a felony-level conviction can have their record sealed or cleared in Texas. With such niche stipulations, many people don't even know they qualify for record sealing or clearing. 

Some resources exist, however, like the Texas Fresh Start Guide and Beacon Law's Eligibility Checker, to help you determine your eligibility. 

For those who qualify, the next step would be finding someone - such as a non-profit, law school, servicing agency, or lawyer - who can assist in the process of sealing or clearing your record. While any individual can go through the process independently, it’s difficult to navigate the petition system without the assistance of an attorney. Below is a list of resources that can assist in managing your criminal legal record.

Resources for Record Relief 


For many, record sealing and clearing are an avenue to secure better career opportunities. In fact, people who have received record relief are 23% more likely to find employment. However, the high cost of record relief is another barrier to economic stability. While indigency may afford you the right to an attorney in criminal cases, that representation does not extend to managing your legal records after completing your sentence/deferred adjudication. More than 90% of America’s civil legal aid needs go unmet. Nonprofits dedicated to providing legal aid services make it their mission to assist and alleviate the financial burden stopping many from getting necessary help. They offer free legal services while asking individuals only to pay the filing fee for a petition of non-disclosure or expunction, which varies by county.

Volunteer Legal Services (VLS) is a nonprofit based in Central Texas that provides no-cost legal advice through licensed attorney volunteers. Interested applicants must first apply online to be scheduled for a phone consultation the following week or later, depending on capacity. If the form reads “not currently accepting responses,” the application is closed. However, the organization hosts a free, in-person legal advice clinic in San Marcos and Austin on the second Tuesday and second Wednesday of most months, respectively. Applicants can receive assistance in English and Spanish until 8 pm but must be registered by 6:45 pm.

Beacon Law is a no-cost non-profit in Houston that provides criminal history clearing for Harris County offenses. To apply for their legal services, contact a case manager at one of Beacon Law's partner agencies for assistance or sign up at The Beacon Day Center on Fridays between 7:00 and 9:30 am. A staff member will collect information on your legal needs and screen for eligibility and conflicts before connecting you with a lawyer. If you qualify, you’ll have to pay a  $300 filing fee to the Harris County District Clerk. 

Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid (TRLA) works with attorneys on expunction cases further South. While their jurisdiction stretches all the way to Central Texas, they offer record relief services along the Texas-Mexican border. Interested clients should call 833-329-8752 to begin the TRLA intake process, where a staff member will help them determine if you qualify for expunction and TRLA's services. If they cannot assist you, the organization will refer you to another legal organization.

Law Schools

Non-profits are not the only organizations committed to offering affordable and accessible criminal record-clearing services. Universities utilize student interest and the support of law school professors, pro bono attorneys, and legal service providers to offer free legal aid. These clinics build students' lawyering skills, increase access to justice, and facilitate a connection between schools and their surrounding communities.

In Austin, the Texas Law Expunction Project is a student-run and attorney-supervised clinic that assists 75 clients per semester. The project “determines eligibility and prepares paperwork to be filed in court to expunge or seal criminal records for people who cannot afford to hire an attorney.” The clinic started as a way to help struggling 16- to 24-year-olds but has now expanded to anyone who meets their intake requirements.

The Randall O. Sorrels Legal Clinics, housed on South Texas College of Law Houston’s campus, offer services to Houston’s underserved populations. Students provide more than 35,000 hours of direct client services, working alongside lawyers across more than 20 practice areas. Residents can fill out a request for assistance or call 713-646-2990 for help filing an expunction order. 

St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio offers record sealing and clearing clinics through its Pro Bono Program. The school works with community-based organizations like Beacon Law, San Antonio Legal Services Association, and Texas Legal Services Center to guide citizens seeking expunctions and orders of non-disclosure. For access to their services, call 210-431-2596, and you’ll be connected to a Clinical Program staffer who will conduct an income and asset screening before providing information, advice, referral, or representation.

Self-Representation, Private Attorneys, and Alternate Avenues for Record Relief

However, like non-profits, clinics hosted by universities only assist low-income residents, generally within 150% to 200% of the federal poverty guidelines, preventing many Texans with a criminal legal record from obtaining these services. Additionally, not all law schools provide record sealing or clearing clinics. This means most Texans with a record are forced to fend for themselves via alternative avenues, self-representation, or hiring a private attorney. 

In Texas, you can petition for a non-disclosure or expunction on your own; however, the process is tedious and complicated. You or whoever is assisting you has to notify all third-party companies of the judge’s newly signed order, and if you neglect a company, they can still possess and sell your record. An attorney can ensure your record is securely removed from the public purview. If you choose this route, consider experience, their Better Business Bureau rating, and a money-back guarantee. You want an attorney with an “A” rating for three years or more with at least a 50% money-back guarantee. Outside of professionalism and security, there are many other things to consider, including fees and attorney-client relationships. While the process can be difficult to navigate, Texas Law Help offers a free resource on Working with Private Attorneys.

For a more cost-efficient option than hiring an attorney, consider Easy Expunctions for individuals with a Texas record. Easy Expunctions is an alternative record-clearing entity that tries to remedy the gap between affordability and services rendered by leveraging technology to offer record services at “a fraction of the cost of hiring a lawyer,” with a 100% money-back guarantee. They check your eligibility for free, and if you qualify, connect you with a customer success manager who will guide you through the rest of the process. Once a judge approves the order, they send notices to hundreds of background check companies through their eliminator service so that you can get relief on the court level and online. 


For Texans seeking record relief, the options are limited to non-profits, law-clinics, self-representation, or hired assistance. For those within the income threshold to access the services offered by a non-profit or legal clinic, consider reaching out to the organizations mentioned above; they're committed towards supporting the legal needs for Texans who can't otherwise afford it. 

Unfortunately, in a state as large as ours, these avenues are not accessible to everyone. With organizations and law schools situated in major city hubs, people in West and South Texas don’t always benefit from these services. It doesn’t have to be this way. 

In the next part of this blog series, we'll provide ways in which communities and decision makers can help address the shortcomings of the record relief process.