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In re Expunction of J.L.M.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Eleventh District

May 9, 2019

IN THE MATTER OF THE EXPUNCTION OF J.L.M.

          On Appeal from the 142nd District Court Midland County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. CV53260

          Panel consists of: Bailey, C.J., Stretcher, J., and Wright, S.C.J. [1]

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JOHN M. BAILEY CHIEF JUSTICE

         J.L.M. appeals the trial court's denial of his pro se and in forma pauperis petition for expunction of records arising out of a dismissed charge against him for escape from custody. See Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 38.06 (West 2016). Appellant contends that the trial court abused its discretion when it denied his petition because the State dismissed the indictment for this offense. We affirm.

         Background Facts

         While Appellant was being held in the Midland County Jail for the offense of manufacture or delivery of a controlled substance, he allegedly committed the offense of escape from custody on July 21, 2016. Appellant was later indicted for escape from custody. Pursuant to a subsequent plea agreement, Appellant pleaded guilty to the offense of possession of a controlled substance. As a part of the plea agreement, the charge for escape from custody was dismissed. The motion to dismiss listed the reason for dismissal as: "The defendant was convicted in another case."

         Less than a year later, Appellant filed a pro se petition for expunction of records arising out of his indictment and confinement for escape from custody. Appellant alleged that he was entitled to an expunction under Chapter 55 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure because the indictment was dismissed on October 14, 2016. See Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. ch. 55 (West 2018).

         The State filed an answer opposing Appellant's motion seeking expunction. The State asserted that the indictment was dismissed as a result of a plea agreement with the State and not because the indictment was based upon "mistake, false information, or any other similar reason indicating absence of probable cause" as required under the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. The trial court denied Appellant's petition for expunction in a written order without holding a hearing on the matter. This pro se appeal followed.

         Analysis

         In a single issue, Appellant contends that the trial court abused its discretion when it denied his petition for expunction. Appellant asserts that he was entitled to an expunction based on the dismissal of the indictment for escape from custody. Appellant argues that Article 55.01 does not require any particular ground for dismissal to satisfy the requirement that the indictment has been dismissed. We disagree.

         We review a trial court's ruling on a petition for expunction under the abuse of discretion standard. State v. T.S.N., 547 S.W.3d 617, 620 (Tex. 2018); Rodriguez v. State, 224 S.W.3d 783, 784 (Tex. App.-Eastland 2007, no pet.). "Under the abuse of discretion standard, appellate courts afford no deference to the trial court's legal determinations because a court has no discretion in deciding what the law is or in applying it to the facts." T.S.N., 547 S.W.3d at 620 (citing In re Labatt Food Serv., L.P., 279 S.W.3d 640, 643 (Tex. 2009); Walker v. Packer, 827 S.W.2d 833, 840 (Tex. 1992)). "Thus, a trial court's legal conclusions are reviewed de novo." Id. (citing State v. Heal, 917 S.W.2d 6, 9 (Tex. 1996)). As was the case in T.S.N., the trial court's ruling on the expunction request hinged on a question of law because it required the interpretation of Article 55.01; therefore, it is subject to de novo review. See id. (citing City of Rockwall v. Hughes, 246 S.W.3d 621, 625- 26 (Tex. 2008)).

         "The purpose of an expunction statute is to permit the expunction of records of wrongful arrests." In Expunction of R.H., 510 S.W.3d 143, 145 (Tex. App.-El Paso 2016, no pet.) (citing Harris Cty. Dist. Attorney's Office v. J.T.S., 807 S.W.2d 572, 574 (Tex. 1991); Travis Cty. Dist. Attorney v. M.M., 354 S.W.3d 920, 926 (Tex. App.-Austin 2011, no pet.)). Article 55.01 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure contains the requirements for expunction of criminal records. "A person is not entitled to expunction until all of the statutory conditions are met." T.S.N., 547 S.W.3d at 620 (citing Tex. Dep't of Pub. Safety v. J.H.J., 274 S.W.3d 803, 806 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2008, no pet.)).

         Appellant sought expunction pursuant to subsection (a)(2)(A)(ii) of Article 55.01. The version of Article 55.01 in effect both at the time of Appellant's offense and when he filed his application for expunction, provided as follows:

(a) A person who has been placed under a custodial or noncustodial arrest for commission of either a felony or misdemeanor is entitled to have all records and ...

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