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How Travis County keeps some case records from domestic abuse victims

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When Tara Coronado asked last year to see a copy of the agreement her ex-husband had signed with Travis County prosecutors to settle criminal charges that he’d hit her, she had no idea what a dust-up she would cause.

The office of Travis County Attorney David Escamilla wouldn’t turn over the document. Now, nearly a year on, Coronado’s request has blown into a pitched open records legal battle pitting Travis County against Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has ordered the papers released.

The dispute highlights a little-known tactic Travis County prosecutors use to dispose of about one in five family violence cases. In so-called deferred prosecutions, all charges against the alleged batterer are dropped. In exchange, he or she agrees to abide by a set of rules for up to two years, such as attending counseling and not having contact with the victim.

If the defendant fails to follow the agreement, prosecutors can refile the charges. If he completes the program without any hitches, he can then ask a judge to expunge the case, meaning evidence of the incident in the public record is wiped away.

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