Can I Get My Record Sealed?

With the advent of the Internet, access to personal information is easier than ever. When you apply for a job, a criminal background check is routine. When you apply for a mortgage or college admission, expect to have your background checked. For most people, this is not a problem. However, if you were charged with a crime in the past, it can prevent you from obtaining your desired goals.

In Texas, there are two options available to clear your adult criminal record, although both options have many restrictions. An expunction of criminal records may be available if:

  1. The charges against you were subsequently dropped
  2. You were acquitted
  3. You were found guilty, but the conviction was later overturned

The second way to clear your record is through non-disclosure. This may be available to you if you were granted a deferred adjudication probation. This means that you were not technically convicted because the judge did not specifically find you guilty of the offense. Instead, the judge found that there was enough evidence that a finding of guilt could have been made. Non-disclosure is available for some misdemeanors after two years.

In certain circumstances, you may not be eligible for either expunction or non-disclosure, such as if you completed straight probation or were convicted of murder or sex offenses. In those cases, the only ways to clear your record are to win a pardon from the governor or the president, or to file a writ of habeas corpus — long shot chances at best.

In you are granted either an expunction or non-disclosure, private individuals and businesses cannot learn about your criminal case. This means that you do not have to disclose this event on your job application, mortgage application, or college admission form. However, the police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other governmental enforcement agencies can still see the sealed records.

There are many excellent reasons to seal your record. Your best bet is to contact an experienced San Antonio criminal defense attorney to discuss your options.

Establishing Paternity Is Important

Fathers are generally considered extremely important to the well being of their children, both emotionally and financially. Identifying the father of a child is important because it gives legal rights and benefits to the father, the mother and the child.

Paternity refers to the legal recognition of a man as the father of a child. In Texas, if a child is born within a marriage, the law presumes that the husband is the legal father unless paternity is established otherwise in a paternity suit. If a child is born outside of a marriage, there is no legal father unless steps are taken to establish paternity.

How to establish paternity

In Texas, paternity can be established in two ways — administratively by filing a form or judicially through formal court proceedings. Proceeding administratively requires the cooperation of the mother and father. This method saves the parents money and usually proceeds quickly. The parents sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity (AOP) form and file it with the Bureau of Vital Statistics. If the Bureau of Vital Statistics approves the form, paternity is established. If one parent won’t cooperate to sign an AOP, paternity must be proven judicially. It is beneficial for the parent seeking to establish paternity to consult with an experienced family law attorney to prove paternity through the courts.

Why establish paternity

Identifying the legal father is important because in addition to knowing the identity of the father, it may allow the child to receive the father’s health and life insurance benefits as well as an inheritance. Paternity gives both parents the right to get a child support order, get a court order for visitation or custody, and gives the father legal rights to have a say in many decisions made for the child. It’s important to have paternity legally recognized because if not, there is no legal recourse if the father dies, becomes disabled, or simply decides to stop paying voluntary child support.

Fathers have the duty to financially and emotionally support their children. It’s best if paternity is established sooner rather than later so that the child and the parents can all benefit.

Do You Need a Living Will in Texas?

None of us likes to think of a time when we might become incapacitated and unable to make even the most basic decisions. However, the old Boy Scout motto, Be prepared, is an excellent idea. Those who prepare ahead of time for unpleasant life events are ultimately better off, as are their families.

A living will, or a directive to physicians, is a document that clearly defines the types of medical treatment you would like to receive or not receive in certain situations. It can, for instance, instruct your doctors not to use artificial means to extend your life if you are diagnosed with a terminal condition. A related document is a medical power of attorney. This names a trusted person, called your agent, to direct your health care if you are unable to do so yourself. Most people name a spouse, partner, relative or close friend to serve as their agent.

In Texas, it is strongly recommended that citizens have a living will and medical power of attorney. Why? Because if you become incapacitated and unable to make your own medical decisions due to an illness, accident, or old age, these documents can help save your life or ensure that your wishes are followed. If you haven’t recorded your wishes regarding these matters, these decisions will be made by family members you may not want making those decisions, or by doctors or even judges. They make decisions based on what they believe to be best, not what you want.

If you are a competent adult, you can execute a living will in the presence of two disinterested witnesses or a notary public. The living will takes effect when you become a qualified patient, meaning when you become diagnosed with a terminal or irreversible condition that is certified in writing by your attending physician.

No one lives forever, much as that thought may make us uncomfortable. It is best to consult a family law attorney to draft your living will and related documents in order to be prepared before you actually need them.

Young Carefree Texas Drivers May Face DWI Charges

A rite of passage for any teenager is getting a driver license. For many, another rite of passage is drinking alcohol. The two are a deadly mix. As most know, teens make up the highest risk of accidents amongst all groups of drivers. On top of that, Texas unfortunately leads the nation in the number of accidents related to driving while intoxicated (DWI), with about 2,000 each year.

In Texas and across America, the legal limit for blood alcohol concentration (BAC) while driving is 0.08 percent. The legal drinking age is 21. Texas has a zero tolerance law for underage drinking. That means that a driver under the age of 21 with any detectable amount of alcohol has committed a violation. Young drivers account for many drug and alcohol related accidents because they reach higher alcohol levels more quickly than people with higher body weights and more experience digesting alcohol.

If a teenager (or anyone) is pulled over on suspicion of DWI and refuses to perform a breath or blood test, the driver license is usually immediately suspended for six months. The DWI penalties for teen drivers under the age of 21 can vary according to the amount of alcohol in their system, but the penalties generally are

  • 30 days suspension for a first offense
  • 60 days suspension for a second offense
  • 180 days suspension for a third offense

DWI convictions also carry a heavy financial penalty called a conviction-based surcharge. This is an ongoing additional fine that must be paid for three years and can be thousands of dollars. Teen drivers may also be ordered to attend alcohol awareness courses and perform community service.

Finally, teens need to be aware that they can face legal liability for their actions. Every driver in Texas owes a duty of safety to others on the road. A violator of this duty can be held legally accountable for his/her actions through a lawsuit.

Teens must be informed about the severe consequences of DWI. If your teen is facing punishment, it’s best to consult an experienced San Antonio DWI attorney to protect your teen’s rights.

Domestic Violence Legal Issues

Unfortunately, domestic violence (often referred to as family violence in Texas) is a common occurrence. Nearly 75 percent of all Texans have either experienced domestic violence themselves or know of a family member or friend who has. If you have been a victim of this crime, or know someone who has been, there is help available.

In Texas, domestic violence is defined as an assault by a person on a spouse, former spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend, or member of the same family or household. Victims of domestic violence should report the abuse to the police right away. If the situation is imminent, call 911.

Whether the perpetrator is arrested is up to the discretion of the police officers. The perpetrator can be arrested on either misdemeanor or felony charges, depending on the severity of the actions and the injuries. Once you report the incident, you are not allowed to change your mind and drop the charges on your own. It is the prosecutor’s decision whether to pursue criminal charges at that point.

If you are a victim of domestic violence, consider hiring an attorney to help you file for an order of protection. The prosecutor may ask the court to put an order of protection in place in cases of domestic violence. When a protective order is issued, the perpetrator is not allowed go near the victim or the victim’s home or workplace, threaten the victim, or possess a firearm. Once a protective order is in place, the victim cannot decide to remove it — only a court can modify a protective order.

If you are a victim of domestic violence, reach out and get help. Texas has many laws and resources to support you and keep you safe. A San Antonio family law attorney may also be able to advise you.