By Maureen Hayden
CNHI Statehouse Bureau
A bill that would allow some people with long-ago arrests and convictions in Indiana to wipe clean their criminal record is on its way to governor’s desk.
The Indiana House gave final approval to legislation that creates a mechanism for the court-ordered expungement of criminal records that bill supporters say are a lifelong impediment to employment for ex-offenders who’ve redeemed themselves.
“Making a mistake doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily a bad person. Making a mistake means you’re a human being,” said Rep. Jud McMillin, the Brookville Republican and former deputy prosecutor who was lead author on the bill. “They shouldn’t have to live with it forever.”
If signed by Republican Gov. Mike Pence, House Bill 1482 would create Indiana’s first-ever expungement law covering multiple levels of offenses. It passed the House on a 78-19 vote.
There is a long list of conditions on who can qualify. But the bill opens the door for some ex-offenders who have stayed out of trouble to get rid of an old arrest or conviction that potential employers often see as an automatic disqualifier for a job.
“A lot of times, the reason why people go into prison and come right out into a bad lifestyle is because they have no opportunity, they have no hope,” said McMillin. “They can’t look into the future and see where things are going to get better for them because every job application they turn in gets thrown into the trash can.”
Indiana currently has a criminal records “sealing” law that allows people with arrests or convictions for low-level, nonviolent 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 class D felonies.
The expungement bill approved Monday goes further and covers some higher-level offenses.
There are limits on what records can be expunged: Most sex and violent crimes are excluded and people seeking to have their records 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 courts would be required to give victims of some crimes the opportunity to object to the record expungement.
Also in the bill: A potential employer can only ask job applicants if they’ve been arrested or convicted of a crime that has not been expunged by a court. It also protects employers from being sued if they hire someone who’s had their record expunged but subsequently commits another crime.
The legislation creates several levels of expungement for different levels of crime. It clears the way for convictions on misdemeanor offenses to be expunged five years after the conviction if the person petitioning the court has completed the sentence, has no charges pending and hasn’t been convicted of another subsequent crime. Persons with D felony convictions have to wait eight years after their conviction and meet similar conditions.
Someone with a higher level, non-violent felony has to wait at least eight years after the sentence is served before filing a petition with the court and the judge has the discretion not to grant the petition, even if other conditions are met.
If the bill is signed by Pence, it won’t become effective until July 1. The bill doesn’t require an ex-offender to hire an attorney to file an expungement petition, but will require the petitioner to pay a fee set by the court.
Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at email@example.com.