- Hundreds of people showed up at an Indianapolis forum to learn more about a new state law that lets Hoosiers wipe some felonies and misdemeanors off their records. Photo by Megan Banta, TheStatehouseFile.com
Hoosiers crowded into a conference room at the Julia Carson Center on Wednesday night in Indianapolis to learn more about a new state law that allows individuals to petition courts to have old criminal offenses removed from their records.
People waited up to an hour in a line that stretched around the building to get through security so they could ask legal experts questions about Indiana's expungement law, which took effect July 1, as part of a public forum and panel.
State Sen. Greg Taylor, a Democrat from Indianapolis who co-sponsored the legislation during this year's session of the General Assembly, was one of the panel members. He told one attendee that lawmakers passed the measure so people could turn their lives around.
"What I wanted to do is make sure that you had the opportunity to get a second chance," Taylor said.
Mary Davis, an Indianapolis resident who was at the forum to get information for her grandson, said this is "something that needs to be done."
Davis said the law will help her grandson, who committed a Class D felony, get a job and support his four-year-old son.
Tracy Bennett, a 31-year-old from Indianapolis, said the law will make his situation "a little bit better."
Bennett, who vowed to himself that he would never be a part of the criminal justice system after growing up visiting family members who were, was arrested after law enforcement officers mistook him for someone else. The charges, which he said were like "a slap in the face," were dropped in court but he still has an arrest record.
And, he said, if can that record can be sealed, "it would help a lot."
The new law enables Hoosiers, under certain circumstances, to have various non-violent offenses removed from their criminal records. It also changes a question on the standard job application so that employers can only ask about felonies that have not been expunged. And it makes it possible for someone to sue if an employer cites an expunged conviction as a reason for not hiring that person.
The law does not apply to federal offenses or crimes committed in other states.
Radio personality Amos Brown, who moderated the forum, said Hoosiers in attendance should do their research and get all their information together before they try to petition any court.
The law requires courts to seal the arrest records of individuals who were arrested and then either found not guilty or had the charges dropped or who were convicted but then had that conviction overturned by an appeals court.
Those individuals must wait until a year after being found not guilty, having charges dropped or having a conviction appealed to petition, but they can do so without paying the $141 filing fee.
Individuals convicted of misdemeanors may petition to have those offenses removed - with no exceptions - no earlier than eight years after their conviction. A court is also required to grant that request.
With some exceptions, including homicide, sex crimes, and perjury, people who are not elected officials can have a Class D felony and most other felonies removed from their record eight years after their convictions or after they have completed their sentences and satisfied all obligations.
Elected officials and individuals who have committed a crime causing non-serious bodily injury - except those who committed a homicide or sex crime or are classified as a sex or violent offender - can petition a court 10 years after they have completed their sentences and satisfied all other obligations.
And once any offense is expunged from someone's record, employers cannot hold that offense against the person.
In fact, Taylor said, employers likely will never find out about that offense because the law also changes what employers can ask for in an application.
He said employers now must ask if a potential employee has been convicted of a felony or a crime that has not been expunged.
"Anyone who has never been convicted of a crime would answer the same way as someone who had their crime expunged," he said.
If an employer does find out about an expunged crime and holds it against a person applying for a job, that person can then sue the employer.
Brown encouraged Hoosiers to wait to apply, because even though the law has several potential benefits, it has only been in effect for 38 days and is "going to have bugs."
"I know a lot of you want to have this done today," Brown said. "But I don't want to be the one to hear from you saying, 'I was the first one down there, and they were the first to throw my petition out.'"
Bennett said he, at least, plans to wait. He said he still has questions about the law, especially about public agencies that will still be able to access sealed and expunged records and about how long the process will take.
Megan Banta is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.