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Texas Department of Public Safety v. J.A.M.

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

May 2, 2017

TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY, Appellant
v.
J.A.M., Appellee

         On Appeal from the 149th District Court Brazoria County, Texas Trial Court Case No. 86578-CV

          Panel consists of Justices Keyes, Bland, and Huddle.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Jane Bland Justice

         The Texas Department of Public Safety appeals from an order of expunction of criminal records granted to J.A.M., contending that the trial court abused its discretion in failing to grant its motion for new trial. The Department claims that J.A.M. failed to prove her entitlement to an expunction because, pursuant to a plea agreement, the State dismissed two state jail felony charges in exchange for her guilty plea to a Class A misdemeanor charge, and the court ordered deferred adjudication community supervision arising out of the same arrest. The Department further contends that the expunction order is not supported by legally sufficient evidence and that the trial court erred in failing to hold a hearing on J.A.M.'s petition before ruling. We reverse and remand.

         BACKGROUND

         On February 20, 2014, J.A.M. was arrested in Brazoria County for conduct that led to grand jury indictments on two charges of criminal mischief resulting in pecuniary loss of $2, 500 or more but less than $30, 000, a state jail felony. See Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 28.03(b)(4)(A) (West Supp. 2016). Pursuant to a plea agreement, those charges, which were pending in the 300th District Court of Brazoria County, were dismissed. Also pursuant to the plea agreement, the State then filed an information alleging a single Class A misdemeanor charge of criminal mischief in Brazoria County Court at Law Number 4, to which J.A.M. pleaded guilty. The trial court accepted her plea, deferred the proceedings without an adjudication of her guilt, and placed J.A.M. on 15 months' deferred adjudication community supervision. See Tex. R. Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 42.12, § 5 (West. Supp. 2016). The conditions required J.A.M. to pay a $500 fine; pay $5, 300 in restitution in full when she entered her plea; and perform 80 hours of community service.

         On May 13, 2016, J.A.M. petitioned to expunge the records of the two state jail felony criminal mischief charges. The petition does not mention the misdemeanor charge. In its answer to the petition, the Department denied that J.A.M. was entitled to an expunction because she served a term of community supervision stemming from her arrest.

         The trial court signed an order granting the expunction on July 12, 2016. The Department then moved for a new trial, renewing its contention that J.A.M. was ineligible for an expunction and including copies of, among other things, the County Court at Law Number 4's order deferring adjudication of her guilty plea to the misdemeanor charge and ordering community supervision. That motion was overruled by operation of law on September 25, 2016, and the Department timely filed this appeal.[1]

         DISCUSSION

         I. Standard Of Review

         The Department challenges the propriety of the trial court's order granting J.A.M.'s petition for expunction. This Court reviews a trial court's grant or denial of a petition for expunction for an abuse of discretion. In re Expunction, 465 S.W.3d 283, 286 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2015, no pet.). A trial court abuses its discretion if it renders a decision that is arbitrary, unreasonable, or without reference to guiding rules and principles. Mercedes-Benz Credit Corp. v. Rhyne, 925 S.W.2d 664, 666 (Tex. 1996); In re Expunction, 465 S.W.3d at 286.

         A trial court has no discretion in determining what the law is or applying the law to the facts. Walker v. Packer, 827 S.W.2d 833, 840 (Tex. 1992). We therefore review the trial court's legal conclusions de novo and will uphold those conclusions if the judgment is sustainable on any legal theory supported by the evidence. State v. Heal, 917 S.W.2d 6, 9 (Tex. 1996); In re Expunction, 465 S.W.3d at 286.

         II. The Expunction Statute

         Chapter 55 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure sets forth the requirements and procedures governing the expunction of criminal records. See generally Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. arts. 55.01-55.06. The legislative intent behind the statute is to permit the expunction of records of wrongful arrests. Harris Cty. Dist. Att'y's Off. v. J.T.S., 807 S.W.2d 572, 574 (Tex. 1991). Expunction is a statutory privilege, not a constitutional or common-law right. In re Expunction, 465 S.W.3d at 286. The petitioner seeking an expunction carries the burden of proving that all ...


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