HOUSTON - Everyone who successfully completes the terms of deferred probation for a misdemeanor can honestly say they have not been convicted of a crime. Yet that charge remains on your record for everyone to see.
Two Harris County misdemeanor court judges want all to know a bad decision doesn't have to dictate our future.
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"You can actually have a fresh start. That's what this is about," said Judge Genesis Draper, Harris County Criminal Court of Law #12.
"Typically in the misdemeanor court, we see a lot of young people at the age of 17. You are subject to an adult conviction, adult arrest, adult consequences," said Judge Toria Finch, Harris County Criminal Court of Law #9.
A misdemeanor conviction on your record can have a lasting effect.
"It can dictate where you work, where you live, even your opportunities for future education, licensing, things like that. So it's very important for individuals to have an opportunity to mitigate some of those collateral consequences,"said Judge Tonya Jones, Harris County Criminal Court of Law #15.
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It doesn't matter if you got deferred probation in misdemeanor court a year ago or two decades ago, as long as it's a nonviolent offense, and you completed your probation, your record can be sealed for free.
"Law enforcement can of course still see it. But when you go seek employment, housing, other things like that, you won't," Draper said.
"I knew that my career and my livelihood was on the line, and it affected me tremendously," said Brittany Carr.
Carr ended up in misdemeanor court charged with evading arrest and interfering with a police officer.
"I was pretty much unemployed for a long time," she said. "I received employment through a hospital organization, but I was rejected due to this being on my record. It's been a roller coaster ride for me for a very long time," Carr said.
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But because she qualified for the Fresh Start program, her criminal record is now sealed.
"We want to be the stop here, the crossroads, where that decision is made," said Finch. "Do I live a life of crime? Do I go in this direction or can I just better myself and get whatever tools I need to be successful?"
"Enrolling their children in school, getting needed vaccines, employment opportunities, all kinds of things to encourage a person's fresh start," Draper said.
For more on the program, click here.