Legislators want to take a second look at a new law passed this year that gives Indiana residents with nonviolent criminal histories a chance to limit public access to parts of their record.
The Criminal Law and Sentencing Policy Study Committee met Thursday and discussed possible changes to the new law that the Indiana General Assembly passed in the final days of the 2011 session.
Known as the “second chance” law, House Enrolled Act 1211 allows individuals convicted of certain offenses that weren’t violent or sex crimes to request from the courts restricted access to arrest and criminal records after eight years. The new law is limited to misdemeanors and Class D felonies, and it only limits access rather than expunging a person’s record completely. The statute also allows for limited record access if the person wasn’t prosecuted, if the charges were dismissed or if the case resulted in acquittal.
But since the law took effect July 1, the legal community has been confused about how the changes should be implemented. Judges have delayed making decisions on those requests for closed access to arrest records until they received more direction, and prosecutors and defense attorneys have directed questions to lawmakers.
The Indiana Supreme Court’s Division of State Court Administration has received questions from trial judges and clerks about the logistics of restricting access to public records, according to court spokeswoman Kathryn Dolan. She said the court has added a new chapter to the Administrative Manual about navigating this new statute, and the courts also developed and posted online a form that could be used by pro se litigants.
“Our goal is to give judges and clerks meaningful direction on how to make daily court operations run smoothly while following the law,” Dolan said.
At its most recent meeting on Thursday, the interim legislative panel discussed fixing the inconsistencies in the statute. Draft legislation is being finalized and likely will be discussed again at the next meeting Oct. 26, according to committee members.
Some discussion points at the meeting: Sen. Richard Bray, R-Martinsville, noted that felons could be admitted as lawyers in the state because they would not have to disclose their prior crimes that are sealed through this law. David Powell, recently appointed as the executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, said schools should be allowed to access these records when running criminal background checks on prospective employees.
Indiana Public Defender Council Executive Director Larry Landis said he supports the current law because its aim of shielding these records was a compromise in the larger debate about expunging the convictions altogether. But he agrees the law is inconsistent, and that’s what the draft legislation focuses on. Those revisions are intended to clarify what goes into a petition requesting this limited access and who should get notice of this petition and order once it’s filed, as well as what a court should order about who needs to comply with the restricted access. One aspect also involves making the petition itself confidential, Landis said.
“We wouldn’t be reopening discussion about any substantive policy issues, but just clarifying and making the law more specific on how it should be implemented,” he said.