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Expungement law has good, bad sides, prosecutors say

 Associated Press
July 21, 2014
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An Indiana law allowing some criminals to have their records expunged is drawing mixed reviews from judges and attorneys, who say parts of the law don't make sense.

The goal of the measure that took effect last year is to improve nonviolent offenders' chances of getting a job by shielding felony convictions from a background check done by potential employers.

Hundreds of offenders across the state have applied for expungement; Monroe County has processed 273 requests during the first six months of this year alone.

While supporters say the law gives offenders a second chance, others argue the process can demean the justice system by effectively making a person's bad acts disappear.

"There is good, and bad, where this law is concerned," Monroe County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Bob Miller told The Herald-Times. "On the one hand, it provides a sort of amnesty for people who made a mistake when they were younger that has haunted them since in terms of education and employment. That part is a good thing."

But victims can think it's unfair for an offender to clear his record, Miller said.

That's happened in Morgan County, where Prosecutor Steve Sonnega has challenged expungement petitions he doesn't think should be granted.

Sonnega said the positive aspects of the law are often outweighed by the loss of the victim's rights.

He cited one case in which a man charged with sexual battery had a trial where 11 jurors voted to convict and one stood firm on her not-guilty vote. The victim, a child at the time of the crime, didn't want to testify a second time, so the charge was reduced to battery and the man pleaded guilty.

During the perpetrator's expungement hearing earlier this year, the victim testified that she still is haunted by what happened.

"She testified, very powerfully, that she had to live with the consequences of his actions every day and that she believed he should, too — a logical argument from a crime victim," Sonnega said.

But the law doesn't allow judges to weigh victims' testimony.

"There's not much leeway for a prosecutor or judge, and granting these becomes perfunctory, and that bothers me," Sonnega said.

Miller noted that even when a crime has been erased from the public record, prosecutors and police still can access the records and use them to determine whether to charge someone with a new offense.

"For example, if you have a drunk-driving conviction expunged and then get another OWI arrest within five years, the expunged conviction can be used to enhance the new charge to a felony," he said.

Morgan Superior Judge G. Thomas Gray, a former prosecutor, said he dislikes the expungement process and objects to a provision that says victims can address the court, but the judge cannot consider their testimony if the expungement fits the statute.

He also objects to a requirement that expungement petitions and hearings be kept confidential.

"It's an oxymoron. You can't allow anyone in the courtroom to hear what they say, and it can't be considered anyway," he said.

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  1. Just an aside, but regardless of the outcome, I 'm proud of Judge William Hughes. He was the original magistrate on the Home place issue. He ruled for Home Place, and was primaried by Brainard for it. Their tool Poindexter failed to unseat Hughes, who won support for his honesty and courage throughout the county, and he was reelected Judge of Hamilton County's Superior Court. You can still stand for something and survive. Thanks, Judge Hughes!

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  4. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  5. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

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