State v. T.S.N.

Decision Date11 May 2018
Docket NumberNO. 17–0323,17–0323
Parties The STATE of Texas, Petitioner, v. T.S.N., Respondent
CourtTexas Supreme Court

Andrea L. Westerfeld, Gregory A. Willis, Collin County District Attorney, John R. Rolater Jr., Collin County Criminal District Attorney, Collin County District, Attorney's Office, 2100 Bloomdale Rd., Suite 200, McKinney TX 75071–8318, for Petitioner.

Morgan A. McPheeters, Thad D. Spalding, Kelly, Durham & Pittard, LLP, P.O. Box 224626, Dallas TX 75222, Jeremy F. Rosenthal, Rosenthal & Wadas, PLLC, 4500 W. Eldorado Pkwy., Suite 3000, McKinney TX 75070, for Respondent.

Daniel J. Olds, Texas Department of Public Safety, Crime Records Service, (MSC 0234), P.O. Box 4143, Austin TX 78765–4143, Jeanine C. Hudson, Texas Department of Public Safety, CRS Legal—Expunctions, P.O. Box 4143 (MSC 0234), Austin TX 78765–4143, Jeffrey C. Mateer, First Assistant Attorney General, John C. Sullivan, Office of the Attorney General, P.O. Box 12548 (MC 059), Austin TX 78711, Scott A. Keller, Office of the Attorney General, Solicitor Genera, W. Kenneth Paxton Jr., Attorney General of Texas, Office of the Attorney General, P.O. Box 12548, Austin TX 78711–2548, for Amicus Curiae.

Justice Johnson delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this matter, T.S.N. was arrested for two unrelated charges. She pleaded guilty to one charge but was acquitted of the other. The question is whether, pursuant to Texas Code of Criminal Procedure article 55.01(a)(1)(A), records and files relating to the charge for which she was acquitted are subject to expungement. The trial court granted T.S.N.'s petition seeking expungement and the court of appeals affirmed. We affirm.

I. Background

On October 15, 2010, T.S.N. was charged by information for the misdemeanor offense of theft by check, and a warrant for her arrest issued on November 16, 2010. She was not arrested until June 11, 2013. On that date, she was arrested for the felony offense of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. During the arrest process, the officer also executed the 2010 warrant and arrested T.S.N. on the theft by check charge as well as the assault charge. The theft and assault charges were filed in different courts with different cause numbers. T.S.N. pleaded guilty to the theft charge but not guilty to the assault charge. The assault charge was tried to a jury and she was acquitted.

Following her acquittal, T.S.N. filed a petition pursuant to article 55.01 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, seeking expungement of the records and files relating to the assault charge. Under article 55.01(a)(1)(A), a person is entitled to expunction of all records and files relating to an arrest if the person is tried for and acquitted of the offense on which the arrestwas based. TEX. CODE CRIM. PROC. art. 55.01(a)(1)(A). And although the relevant expunction language is located in the Code of Criminal Procedure, an expunction proceeding is civil in nature. See, e.g. , State v. Beam , 226 S.W.3d 392, 393 (Tex. 2007).

The State opposed T.S.N.'s petition. It argued that she was not entitled to expunction because she was convicted of the theft charge for which she was simultaneously arrested. The State asserted that article 55.01 entitles an individual to expunction of arrest records only if the results of the prosecutions as to all of the charges underlying the arrest meet the statutory requirements for expunction. It reasoned that T.S.N. did not meet the statutory requirements because her arrest resulted in both an acquittal and a conviction. The trial court disagreed with the State and granted T.S.N.'s petition.

The State appealed, arguing that the trial court abused its discretion in granting the expunction. It asserted that the statute is "arrest-based" and T.S.N. was only entitled to expunction of records relating to the arrest for assault if she was also entitled to expunction of records relating to the arrest for theft. T.S.N. countered that article 55.01(a)(1)(A) is "offense-based," so her acquittal of the assault charge entitled her to expunction of the assault-related records, regardless of the outcome on the theft charge.

The court of appeals affirmed. It concluded that the statute linked "arrest" to a single "offense," permitting expunction under the facts of this case, where the charge T.S.N. was acquitted of, and the charge she pleaded guilty to, did not relate to a single episode of criminal conduct. 523 S.W.3d 171, 175–76 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2017).

In this Court, the State asserts that the court of appeals' interpretation of article 55.01(a)(1)(A) conflicts with that of other courts of appeals. The State continues to argue that article 55.01's plain language makes expunction an all-or-nothing proposition relating to the arrest and all matters involved in it. Last, the State contends that an arrest-based reading of the statute is consistent with Legislative intent to provide a remedy for those who have been wrongfully arrested and that because T.S.N. pleaded guilty to the theft offense, her arrest was not wrongful.

T.S.N., in turn, argues that the State is wrong in its contention that the court of appeals' position conflicts with that of all other courts of appeals. She says that the cases cited by the State interpret subsection 55.01(a)(2), a different part of the statute from the subsection applicable to her, and that subsection 55.01(a)(2) addresses materially different situations from the facts in her case. According to T.S.N., the subsection 55.01(a)(2) cases address situations where there was a single arrest for multiple offenses committed on the same day that share a common factual nexus. Further, T.S.N. counters that the statute, when read in its entirety, demonstrates legislative intent to permit expunction of records relating to less than all the offenses arising from a single arrest, so long as expunction is not otherwise barred by the statute's additional requirements. T.S.N. directs us to the statute's consistent use of words in the singular, that is, "the offense" and "the charge," and to subsections that expressly address instances of multiple offenses or charges as indicating the statute's offense-based construction. Finally, T.S.N. asserts that the expunction statute is remedial in nature and therefore is to be construed liberally to provide the intended relief—mandatory expunction after acquittal—thereby granting a fresh start to individuals wrongly charged with an offense.

II. Law
A. Standard of Review

A trial court's ruling on a petition for expunction is reviewed for abuse of discretion. Heine v. Tex. Dep't of Pub. Safety , 92 S.W.3d 642, 646 (Tex. App.—Austin 2002, pet. denied). 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. 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. State v. Heal , 917 S.W.2d 6, 9 (Tex. 1996).

Here, 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. City of Rockwall v. Hughes , 246 S.W.3d 621, 625–26 (Tex. 2008) (stating that statutory construction is a question of law).

B. The Statute

Texas Code of Criminal Procedure article 55.01 contains the requirements for expunction of criminal records. TEX. CODE CRIM. PROC. art. 55.01. A person is not entitled to expunction until all of the statutory conditions are met. Tex. Dep't of Pub. Safety v. J.H.J. , 274 S.W.3d 803, 806 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2008, no pet.). T.S.N. sought expunction pursuant to subsection (a)(1)(A), which provides:

(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 files relating to the arrest expunged if:
(1) the person is tried for the offense for which the person was arrested and is:
(A) acquitted by the trial court, except as provided by Subsection (c)....

Id. art. 55.01(a)(1)(A). The exception created by subsection (c) is as follows:

(c) A court may not order the expunction of records and files relating to an arrest for an offense for which a person is subsequently acquitted, whether by the trial court, a court of appeals, or the court of criminal appeals, if the offense for which the person was acquitted arose out of a criminal episode, as defined by Section 3.01, Penal Code, and the person was convicted of or remains subject to prosecution for at least one other offense occurring during the criminal episode.

Id. art. 55.01(c). Section 3.01 of the Texas Penal Code defines "criminal episode" as:

the commission of two or more offenses, regardless of whether the harm is directed toward or inflicted upon more than one person or item of property, under the following circumstances:
(1) the offenses are committed pursuant to the same transaction or pursuant to two or more transactions that are connected or constitute a common scheme or plan; or
(2) the offenses are the repeated commission of the same or similar offenses.

TEX. PENAL CODE § 3.01.

Statutes are to be analyzed "as a cohesive, contextual whole" with the goal of effectuating the Legislature's intent and employing the presumption that the Legislature intended a just and reasonable result. Sommers for Ala. & Dunlavy, Ltd. v. Sandcastle Homes, Inc. , 521 S.W.3d 749, 754 (Tex. 2017) ; Harris Cty. Dist. Attorney's Office v. J.T.S. , 807 S.W.2d 572, 574 (Tex. 1991) (citing TEX. GOV'T CODE § 311.023(1), (3) ). Further, our analysis is limited to application of the plain meaning of the statutory language "unless a different meaning is apparent from the context or the plain meaning leads to absurd or nonsensical results." Jaster v. Comet II Constr., Inc. , 438 S.W.3d...

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