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February 4, 2013

Criminal records expungement bill moves forward

Legislation has support of the state Chamber of Commerce

INDIANAPOLIS — Legislation that would allow more people the opportunity to erase their criminal records if they could show they’d redeemed themselves passed a critical vote this week.

The House Courts and Criminal Code Committee on Wednesday voted to send the bill on to the full Indiana House of Representatives, after hearing testimony from ex-offenders who said their long-ago convictions made it hard for them to find work and access other opportunities often denied to people with a record. 

Among them was 66-year-old Bob Wilson of Indianapolis, who said he’s been out of prison and out of trouble since 1973, after serving time for a robbery crime he committed when he was 19. 

“My question is: When do you stop being an ex-con?” said Wilson. “I’ve been out for 40 years and done everything expected of me.” 

Under the legislation, authored by Republican state Rep. Jud McMillin of Brookville, persons with long-ago arrests or convictions could petition a judge to expunge their records if they meet certain conditions. 

Indiana has a criminal records “sealing” law that allows people with long ago, low-level arrests or convictions to get a court order to shield that record from public view. But it only applies to certain misdemeanors and class D felonies. 

The expungement bill goes further: It allows judges to expunge — or virtually erase — some class B and class C felonies from the records. Arrest and conviction records that are eligible to be sealed under the current law would also be eligible to be expunged.

There are limits: There is a waiting period of at least five years after a sentence is completed; violent crimes and sex crimes couldn’t be expunged; and the person seeking the expungement would have to show they’ve stayed out of trouble.  

Similar legislation has failed in the past, with some lawmakers arguing that employers have a right to know someone’s criminal history. But bill supporters argue that since Indiana is one of the few states without a criminal-records expungement law, it puts Indiana residents with a record at a disadvantage when seeking work. 

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