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IBA: New Law Restricts Access to Criminal Records

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Bell James Bell

By James J. Bell and Alex E. Gude, Bingham McHale LLP

There is a misconception among even the most educated of criminal clients that arrests, charges and convictions disappear off of one’s Indiana criminal record after a passage of time. This is not the case. Unlike other states’ expungement laws that allow the expungement of records after a period of good behavior, Indiana’s expungement laws can be unforgiving and generally preserve arrest and conviction records so that an arrestee’s great grandchildren can have a memento of their ancestor’s alleged and/or proven mischief.

In fact, Indiana’s expungement laws only apply to arrests and charges that do not result in convictions. They arguably do not even apply to acquittals. According to IC § 35-38-5-1, an expungement of records can only be obtained when the person is arrested but no charges are filed or under a limited amount of circumstances in which the charges are “dropped.” Theoretically, a person could be acquitted of murder by a jury in under ten minutes, the Judge and the prosecutor could apologize to the defendant for the injustice and the charge of murder would still remain on the individual’s record for an eternity. In all likelihood, in this economy, the record of such a charge would not be viewed by an employer as a “résumé builder.”

However, in the most recent session, the General Assembly took action to help some non-violent offenders shield potential employers’ access to some conviction records pursuant to IC 35-38-8. This law, which went into effect on July 1, 2011, states that

Eight (8) years after the date a person completes the person’s sentence and satisfies any other obligations imposed on the person as a part of the sentence, the person may petition a sentencing court to order the state police department to restrict access to the records concerning the person’s arrest and involvement in criminal or juvenile court proceedings.

IC § 35-38-8-3.

However, there are limitations to the applicability of this provision. First of all, it is only available to individuals who were (1) convicted of misdemeanors or Class D felonies that did not result in injury to a person; or (2) adjudicated a delinquent child for committing an offense that, if committed by an adult, would be a misdemeanor or Class D felony that did not result in injury to a person. IC § 35-38-8-2. This statute also does not apply to most sex or violent offenders. IC § 35-38-8-1. Additionally, to restrict access to the individual’s criminal history, the individual must not have been convicted of a felony after he or she completed his or her sentence, and the individual must have satisfied any other obligation imposed as part of the sentence for the crime the individual is attempting to restrict. IC § 35-38-8-4.

If all of the above requirements are met, then a petition should be granted. When a court grants a petition to restrict access, it is required to order all law enforcement agencies to prohibit the release of all records and information relating to the charges at issue to any individual without a court order. IC § 35-38-8-5. Further, once a petition is granted, an individual is legally permitted to state on an application for employment or on any other document that the individual has not been arrested for or convicted of the felony or misdemeanor recorded in the restricted records. IC § 35-38-8-7.

Finally, if a criminal case is dismissed, results in an acquittal or if the conviction is vacated, the defendant may file a similar petition to restrict access to the records. See IC § 35-38-5-5.5. While these laws are not a true “expungement” law, the General Assembly should be commended for helping those individuals who are seeking employment, are not a threat to the public’s safety and who have led a law abiding life for a significant amount of time.•

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  • Hardly an expungement
    Indiana law does not require law enforcement agencies to remove "police blotter" records, nor does it require Court Clerks to remove their records. Limiting expungements in this way renders them useless, since many private firms check local and county records for employers. The result is the crime will be discovered, and the applicant rejected. Expungement means just that, and should be required of all criminal justice agencies.

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  1. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  2. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  3. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

  4. "...not those committed in the heat of an argument." If I ever see a man physically abusing a woman or a child and I'm close enough to intercede I will not ask him why he is abusing her/him. I will give him a split second to cease his attack and put his hands in the air while I call the police. If he continues, I will still call the police but to report, "Man down with a gunshot wound,"instead.

  5. And so the therapeutic state is weaonized. How soon until those with ideologies opposing the elite are disarmed in the name of mental health? If it can start anywhere it can start in the hoosiers' slavishly politically correct capital city.

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