Interviewer: When a case gets dismissed, does it completely go off someone’s record?
Gary Churak: No, the arrest will still be on the record and the court proceedings are still on the record. That’s a misconception people have. If a case is dismissed, it does not completely disappear. What people have to do is come in and do what is called an expunction of the case. That’s basically a civil suit that you file to seal the records. If that is done properly, then the case disappears.
Interviewer: Let’s say, if someone had a misdemeanor or even a felony on their record, years prior, can they get that expunged? How does that work?
Gary Churak: As long as the case has been dismissed, or found not guilty, you can do an expunction. That’s the criteria for an expunction. It doesn’t matter when it happened, you could expunge a case that happened twenty years ago and get it off your record. There is no time limit on it. The only time limit is in order to have the expunction not cost anything; you have to do it thirty days after a not guilty verdict. Usually, you have to pay the court cost.
Interviewer: How much are the court costs?
Gary Churak: On an expunction, they can be up to 500 bucks, because you have to serve all the entities and everything.
Interviewer: What do you think, in Bexar County and surrounding counties, is it easy for someone to find a job or explain to their employer if they have a drug charge on their record?
Gary Churak: The times have changed. If you have any kind of criminal record, you’re not getting a job. That’s just the way it is nowadays. They do background checks on everything nowadays, and if you have anything on your record, especially the way the job market is today with trying to find people looking for jobs, you’re just not going to get that job. It’s important that you not have anything on your criminal record.
Interviewer: What do you recommend to someone you are working with who does have something on their record?
Gary Churak: It depends. If the case can be expunged, let’s do an expunction. If it can be non-disclosed, do a non-disclosure. If you can’t do any of that, we might look into executive clemency, a pardon, which is very difficult to get but not impossible. Those are the kind of options you look at.
Interviewer: Let’s say someone is a professional and they receive a possession charge for a little bit of marijuana on them? What if the person works in a professional atmosphere, whether it’s corporate or they work with the education system or maybe at a hospital? What would you recommend to them that will help their case? What kind of sobering truth would you tell them?
Gary Churak: Basically if you are convicted of this offense, you might as well go find another job somewhere. You will have licensing issues, especially in the medical profession; any type of drug case is a problem. Anytime you’ve got a criminal background check, it’s going to come up on it. So, the question is, how do we get this off your record and at what point and time? I’d try my darnedest to try to get this case dismissed or lowered to a maybe a Class C misdemeanor. We can do a deferred and come back in and do an expunction at a later date. There is some kind of maneuvering that you can do on the case especially if it’s a small amount of marijuana. A lot of times, we can do a pretrial diversion or something like that, that would be beneficial to the individual to keep it off his or her permanent record.