New Law Gives First-Time DWI Offenders Chance to Seal Criminal Record
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New Law Gives First-Time DWI Offenders Chance to Seal Criminal Record

Posted On - February 26th, 2018 | By Tim Clancy | Category - Uncategorized

Having a DWI conviction on your record can have serious long-term consequences when facing a background check for employment or any other purpose. However, a new law in Texas is aimed at allowing certain first-time DWI offenders to apply to remove their conviction from the public record. Called an order of non-disclosure, this process prevents anyone other than law enforcement officials, state or federal authorities and certain government employers from seeing an individual’s conviction. However, the requirements for qualifying for an order of non-disclosure are fairly strict, and eligible individuals must petition the court in order to have their DWI record sealed via a non-disclosure order.

Under HB 3016–signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott on June 15, 2017 and effective as of September 1, 2017–individuals convicted of DWI in Texas are eligible to submit a petition for an order of non-disclosure if seven requirements are met:

  1. 1. This was the individual’s first Driving While Intoxicated offense;
  2. 2. The offender was not previously convicted or placed on probation for any other offense (excluding minor traffic offenses);
  3. 3. The offender’s blood alcohol level was less than 0.15;
  4. 4. The offender was not involved in an accident that injured anyone (including their passenger) while committing the DWI offense;
  5. 5. Any sentence or community service imposed was satisfactorily completed;
  6. 6. All fines, restitution and any other costs were paid; and
  7. 7. The appropriate waiting period following the completion of any sentence has passed; the waiting period is two years if the defendant was required to use an ignition interlock device for at least six months, and five years if they were not.

While the law only went into effect as of September, it is retroactive; this means that all first-time DWI offenders in the state are eligible to apply for an order of non-disclosure, regardless of their conviction date.

According to the bill’s sponsor, State Representative Senfronia Thompson, the goal of the law is to give first-time offenders a “second chance.” Even certain anti-drunk-driving groups have come out in support of the law. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), for example, is in favor of the measure as it encourages the use of ignition interlocks, which can help prevent repeat DWI offenses.

Ultimately, however, judges are still the final arbiters of who is granted an order of non-disclosure. Even if all the statutory requirements are met, a judge can still deny an individual’s petition. The district attorney’s office in each county also play a role in the petition process. The D.A. can challenge any request to seal a DWI conviction; for example, the Harris County D.A.’s office has said it will oppose any petition it thinks is against the public interest.

Still, this new law has provided a previously unavailable form of relief for first-time DWI offenders who have taken steps to change their behavior and learn from their mistake.