A person charged with a crime must understand that if he or she is convicted of the crime, that conviction will be on that person's record forever. Yes, that's right, forever! A conviction can go down a couple of different ways:
1) By pleading guilty to an agreed plea bargain deal (no deferred adjudication); or
2) By taking the case to trial and losing.
There is only one way to get a criminal charge completely off a person's record and that is through the expunction process. An expunction is where a judge signs an expunction order for the person charged with the crime. The expunction order requires that any agency that has records pertaining to subject person's arrest must destroy said records. A person is eligible for an expunction when the charge against them is dismissed and the statute of limitations has run, or if they go to trial and win with a not guilty verdict. Dismissals are rare and trials can be very risky-even if a person has a very good case, there is certainly no guarantee the case can be won at trial. As you can see the road to a clean record can be very dicey at best.
What happens if the person charged with a crime has stayed out of trouble their whole life, but happened to have a bad day? Do all the years of clean living mean anything? Up until a year ago, the answer was no. But these days in Collin County, the answer is increasing becoming YES.
We have seen in this, the first year of Greg Willis' term of Collin County District Attorney, that his office has been willing to dust off the once dormant Pre-Trial Diversion Program and put it back to use. The Pre-trial Diversion Program is a deferred prosecution program available in certain misdemeanor cases (DWIs are not eligible for pre-trial diversion) where the individual charged with an offense has no prior criminal history. What deferred prosecution means is that the case will be removed from the normal court process and the individual placed into a non-court-ordered probation program without pleading guilty to the Court.
Because the program is still fairly new and quickly becoming inundated at a high rate, many of the finer details are still in flux. The most important detail; however, is very clear: successful completion of the program makes the person eligible for a complete and immediate expunction of the arrest, the prosecution, and the entire court case.
The road to the program begins when the charged person meets with his or her lawyer to discuss the person's criminal history and review the case. Yes, you must obtain a lawyer. The District Attorney's Office will refuse to submit an individual into Pre-trial Diversion without the person being represented by a lawyer. Even more importantly, the District Attorney's Office does not make Pre-trial Diversion part of their standard offer in any case--thus far attorneys have been required to request it. What this means to the individual charged with a misdemeanor is that hiring just any attorney may not be enough to reap the benefits of the program.
If the person qualifies for the program, their lawyer will contact the prosecutor to request the person be considered for the program. If the District Attorney's Office approves an individual for the Pre-trial Diversion Program an interview with the Probation Office will be scheduled. This interview accomplishes several things: (1) screening out habitual offenders and individuals with serious drug use, and (2) securing an affidavit which admits guilt of the alleged offense--yes, a confession to be used as insurance in case the individual washes out of the program. Once accepted, the individual will agree to a supervised probation term with standard terms and conditions.
If a person successfully completes the program, the charge will be expunged from their records, clearing the crime from the person's record. However, if the person fails to comply with the terms and conditions of the program, including attending monthly meetings, they will be released from the program and back before the Court--only this time with a sworn admission of guilt to the offense.