Wal-Mart heiress inadvertently shines light on Texas expungement

Alice Walton, heiress to the Wal-Mart corporation and one of the richest people in the world, recently had a Texas DWI arrest expunged from her record, shining light on this often-overlooked yet very useful legal tool. Walton was arrested in October of 2011 on suspicion of driving while intoxicated.

Walton has claimed since the arrest that a physical disability (an injury to her leg in a 1983 car accident left one leg shorter than the other, affecting her balance and gait) left her unable to perform the sobriety tests, and that she was not under the influence. Since she offered a valid defense and the trooper who arrested her was put on administrative leave for allegations of misconduct in other cases and was unavailable to testify, no charges were ever brought against her. Following the expiration of the statute of limitations on the original DWI charges in October of 2013, Walton’s attorneys successfully moved to have her record expunged.

What is expungement?

Technically called “expunction” under Chapter 55 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, expungement/expunction is a process by which all records of a crime (arrest files, officer notes, mug shots, DNA samples, etc.) are destroyed. For all intents and purposes, it will be like the crime never happened. Once a record is expunged, the person’s criminal record shows no trace of the arrest in question.

This can be crucial for housing, career and educational opportunities, since a criminal background history search is becoming commonplace. The ability to truthfully answer on an application that you have never been arrested can make the difference between following your dreams and having to move your life down a completely different path.

How does expungement work?

Not all arrests and convictions are eligible for expunction, and there are waiting periods and other criteria that need to be met before a request to expunge can even be considered. For example, felony, DWI and sex crimes charges are usually not expunged. In addition, an arrest record cannot be expunged if the person was convicted of the crime and is still on probation or if there were multiple offenses at the time of arrest and one or more of those additional offenses have charges pending. It may, however, be possible for a person who successfully completes a probationary deferred adjudication following a conviction (or guilty plea) to have a record expunged or at least have it sealed (called a non-disclosure) such that it is only available to law enforcement or government agencies.

Getting started

Expungement can make a huge difference in the life of someone whose one mistake threatens to derail their plans for the future. It is an exacting process, and paperwork must contain all relevant information like case file numbers, the names and address of myriad agencies that might have a record of the arrest and key dates to be successful. If you are interested in learning more about expungement – including if your particular situation is right for expungement or non-disclosure – or filing an expungement petition, seek the advice of a Texas criminal defense attorney.