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Old expungement law applies to dropped charges in plea deal, COA rules

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A man who sought to expunge arrest records for charges that were dismissed in a 2011 plea agreement was denied at the trial court but convinced the Indiana Court of Appeals that access to those records should be restricted.

Alec Lucas pleaded guilty to Class D felony counts of possession of a controlled substance and dealing marijuana, and the state dismissed a D felony count of dealing marijuana, a misdemeanor minor in possession of alcohol count and traffic infractions.

Lucas later filed a petition under I.C. 35-38-5-5.5 to restrict access to the dismissed charges. Marion Superior Judge James Osborn denied the request, concluding that the statute doesn’t apply in instances where some charges are dismissed pursuant to a plea agreement, but others are not.

“While the statute is not a model of clarity, we conclude that it was intended to apply to any dismissed charge and not just in cases where all charges have been dismissed,” Judge Terry Crone wrote for the panel, in Alec Lucas v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1301-CR-51, reversing and remanding to the trial court.

The holding is limited, though, because a new expungement law enacted this year repealed the prior section and made clear that the new law would be on the trial court’s side.

“New Section 35-38-9-1 allows a person to petition a court to seal arrest records if: ‘(1) the arrest did not result in a conviction or juvenile adjudication; or (2) the arrest resulted in a conviction or juvenile adjudication and the conviction or adjudication was vacated on appeal,’” Crone wrote. “The trial court’s approach, however, was more consistent with the new statute than with the statute in effect at the time.”

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