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.•