Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

April 10, 2013

Criminal records expungement bill moves forward

Maureen Hayden
CNHI

— A bill that would allow people with long-ago arrests and convictions to wipe clean their criminal record continues to move through the Indiana legislature with critical support from conservative Republicans.

The legislation, House Bill 1482, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 6-2 vote after it was amended to include some incentives for employers worried about the potential liability of hiring someone with a criminal record. Authors of the expungement bill say it will help remove some of the barriers that make it difficult for ex-offenders to find employment and access other opportunities.

“It’s for people who’ve cleaned up their act and want to get back into society,” said Rep. Jud McMillin, a former deputy prosecutor from Brookville who successfully carried the bill through the GOP-controlled House. The bill has the strong backing of Sen. Brent Steele of Bedford, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee; and Sen. Mike Young of Indianapolis, chairman of the Senate Courts and Corrections Committee.

“I want to give people a second chance,” Young said.

Indiana currently has a criminal records “sealing” law that allows people with arrests or convictions for low-level, non-violent crimes to get a court order to shield that record from public view after a number of years have passed. But it only applies to certain misdemeanors and some D felonies.

The expungement bill goes further and covers higher-level felonies. There are limits: Most sex and violent crimes are excluded and persons seeking to have their record expunged have to show they’ve stayed out of trouble for a number of years. Prosecutors would have to sign off on the expungement for some higher-level crimes, and public officials who’ve committed a crime would have to meet a higher standard to have that crime expunged.

Under the current version of the bill, a person who was arrested but not convicted can have the record expunged within one year after that arrest. Someone with a misdemeanor conviction can have that record expunged within five years after that conviction. Someone with a non-violent class D felony can have that record cleared eight years after the conviction. Persons with higher-level felonies must wait eight after their sentence is over to apply to have the record expunged.

The legislation also gives prosecutors and judges more discretion in granting those expungement requests. Those same conditions apply to someone convicted of official misconduct or perjury.

There are some crimes that can’t be wiped clean under the bill, such as murder or incest.

The bill also includes other provisions: Crime victims have an opportunity to object to the record expugement in some cases, and prosecutors will still have access to criminal records that have been expunged from court records.

Another key element of the bill: A potential employer can only ask a job applicant if they’ve been arrested or convicted of a crime that has not been expunged by a court. The bill also makes it an infraction for an employer to discriminate against someone who’s had an arrest or conviction expunged. But it also protects employers from being sued if they hire someone who’s had their record expunged, but subsequently commits another crime.

Republican Sen. Randy Head of Logansport voted against the bill.

“Employers have a right to know who they’re hiring,” Head said.

But bill supporters say employers too often automatically reject a job applicant with an arrest or criminal conviction without knowing the circumstances.

Andrew Cullen, legislative liaison for the Indiana Public Defender Council, said the legislation has the potential to help thousands of ex-offenders who’ve turned their lives around but face closed doors when it comes to employment.

In speaking in support of the bill, Cullen cited the state constitution’s call for restorative justice: “This bill says: ‘If you successfully take part in the reformation process, you will no longer be labeled a criminal by the state of Indiana.’”