State law change expands expungement eligibility
Earlier this year, state lawmakers greatly expanded the number of Class D felonies that people can have cleared from their criminal records.
The change to the state’s expungement law allows more people with nonviolent, nonsexual Class D felonies to remove any history of convictions from their records, creating job opportunities for people who were previously barred from good jobs by having a conviction.
In Daviess County, at least, the change in the law hasn’t resulted in an increase in people seeking expungements.
“The new, revised statute went into effect on June 27,” said Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Mike Van Meter, who reviews and responds to expungement applications for the prosecutor’s office. “I haven’t seen many at this point” since the law changed, he said, but, “the ones I am seeing are ones that weren’t eligible under the old law.”
Senate Bill 57 was sponsored by Sen. Jimmy Higdon, a Lebanon Republican, and Sen. Gerald Neal, a Louisville Democrat, and was signed into law by Gov. Matt Bevin in March.
While the previous expungement bill Bevin signed in 2016 allowed for about 60 Class D felonies to be expunged, Senate Bill 57 makes most D felonies eligible for expungement. Crimes against children, sex offenses, crimes that resulted in “serious bodily injury or death” and crimes designated as an “abuse of public office” are not eligible to be expunged.
Offenses committed before Jan. 1, 1975, can also be expunged if the offense doesn’t fall under one of the exceptions.
“Expungements are still only for Class D felonies, but they expanded the list,” said Kevin Laumas, an Owensboro attorney who has handled expungement cases in Daviess Circuit Court. “They also put in a catch-all that allows any Class D felony to be expunged” with the exceptions, Laumas said.
The new law also lowered the fee to seek an expungement from $500 to $250 and allows a person to pay the fee in installments. If the expungement is denied, most of the fee is returned except for what KSP collects to conduct the background check on the applicant.
A person can apply for an expungement five years after they finish their incarceration or complete the conditions of their probation or parole.
Laumas said there hasn’t been a surge in people seeking to expunge felonies since the revised law took effect in June.
“People who thought they would qualify have already sort of done it,” he said.
Daviess Circuit Judge Jay Wethington said he hasn’t had many applications for expungement in his court. “I saw three or four last month,” Wethington said.
For people who want a felony expunged so they can vote, they might be watching to see if lawmakers pass bills to restore voting rights to felons after they complete their sentences, Wethington said. Such bills were introduced in the 2019 session but didn’t pass.
Daviess Circuit Judge Joe Castlen also said applications for expungement are few.
“I don’t see many, but they do come in,” he said.
Under the 2016 law, only one felony or a series of felonies that “arise from a single incident” were eligible. The new law also does away with the “single incident” provision, instead allowing a “series” of eligible D felonies to be expunged.
Van Meter said in the past the prosecutor’s office objected to expungement applications for multiple felonies if the felonies weren’t connected by a single incident. When the state eliminated that language, people who previously applied to have multiple felonies taken off their record and were denied or had their expungement overturned were able to successfully apply again, he said.
“Some of those have been through again, and with the changes … we no longer have an objection, and they have been expunged,” Van Meter said.
“The only time now, or in the past when I would object to an expungement is when it violates that law,” Van Meter said. “If the victim objects, I would make that known to the court.”
The law requires that victims be contacted about expungement requests, but Van Meter said in his experience, most victims “come to the conclusion that people can change.”
By James Mayse