January 31, 2014

Expungement restrictions may loosen

Indiana House passes tweaks to criminal records law

By Maureen Hayden CNHI Statehouse Bureau

---- — INDIANAPOLIS — Residents with a criminal record may find it easier to erase that history under a measure making its way through the Legislature.

A bill passed this week by the House would loosen restrictions in the state’s “Second Chance” law, which took effect last summer, to make it easier for ex-offenders to find employment. The new measure simplifies the process for requesting that records be erased, and it waives court fees for indigent applicants.

Those who stand to benefit most are people with an old arrest or conviction for a low-level, non-violent crime in their past.

“It’s still not easy to get a criminal record erased,” said state Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Brookville, the bill’s co-author. “But this removes some of the unintended obstacles created by the current law.”

Last year the General Assembly passed the state’s first-ever expungement law for convictions of multiple types of offenses. The bill’s passage came after more than a decade of debate on the issue.

Limits remain on what can be erased from criminal records, which generally are open to public view. For example, most sex and violent crimes are not eligible.

People seeking to have records expunged must show they’ve stayed out of trouble for a number of years. In general, the more serious the offense, the longer an offender’s record must be clean.

Under last year’s law, an employer can only ask applicants if they’ve been arrested or convicted of a crime that has not been expunged by a court. The law protects employers from being sued if they hire someone who’s had their record expunged but subsequently commits another crime.

The new measure would remove what McMillin calls “poison pill” language that punishes people for making mistakes on their expungement applications.

The language of the current law leads some court officials to believe that an error-filled application forever ruins an applicant’s chances to have their record wiped clean, McMillin said. House Bill 1155 would allow applicants to fix those mistakes — for example, to correct details of the charges filed against them — without risking having their request permanently denied.

“This is a ‘second chance’ law — not a third chance, fourth chance, fifth chance law,” McMillin said. “But we also don’t want to punish people for making an honest mistake on their application.”

The bill changes who can access information about records that have been expunged. In certain circumstances, law enforcement and court officials could access a current defendant’s past criminal record.

McMillin, who authored the original expungement law, proposed the changes after hearing from prosecutors, attorneys and other court officials concerned about the language of the complex law.

The House bill now moves to the state Senate.

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @MaureenHayden