County clerks being overrun by expungement petitions are asking the Legislature to impose a filing fee to help offset the costs of processing the forms and restricting the records.
Linda Robbins, Monroe County clerk, testified before the Indiana House of Representatives Courts and Criminal Committee Wednesday, asking the legislators for help in meeting the costs brought by the many requests for expungements.
She proposed a filing fee of $141 with a waiver being available to individuals who could not afford to pay.
Robbins appeared during the committee’s hearing on House Bill 1302 which would, primarily, correct a small glitch in the statute by allowing individuals who are charged but not convicted of a crime or juvenile delinquency to be eligible for expungement.
Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Brookville, author of HB 1302 and of the original expungement law, emphasized his bill does not expand the expungement statute. Instead, he said, his measure tweaks the language so the statute works as effectively as possible.
The committee voted to amend the bill and passed it 12-0.
Robbins said she supports the expungement law but her office has incurred costs the Legislature did not anticipate. Each week, her staff is getting 30 requests for expungement that involve up to 85 cases since petitions can ask to restrict more than one record.
“It takes a minimum of an hour and a half for each case to be processed and because we have five different judges who have five different interpretations of the law, we handle them five different ways,” Robbins said after her testimony.
To help with the increased workload, Robbins has hired an additional part-time staff member and full-time employee at annual salaries of $28,000 and $46,000, respectively.
Complicating the process is the county’s three record management systems which keep the older court documents on microfilm. In order to track which record on microfilm has been restricted, the office has invested thousands of dollars in equipment to convert the microfilmed filings and orders into a form which could be marked as expunged.
Robbins said her office has spent $12,000 for a special scanner and $21,000 for data storage. In addition, the office is spending $8,000 annually for software user fees and maintenance.
“I cannot afford any longer to microfilm anything,” Robbins said. “We are just digitizing and that’s it.”
Tippecanoe County clerk Christa Coffey echoed Robbins’ push for filing fees. She said her office has a steady inflow of petitions and has not seen any slowdown since the law was enacted.
McMillin said he appreciated the clerks’ concerns and he would be happy to address those issues in the bill.
Passed in 2013, the expungement law is designed to give people who have not run afoul of the law for a period of time the opportunity to have their criminal records restricted from public view. McMillin has characterized the law as giving people a second chance.
However the law, McMillin explained to his fellow committee members, is still in the perfecting stages and HB 1302 makes some necessary adjustments. In the Senate, separate bills filed by Republican Sens. Brent Steele of Bedford and R. Michael Young of Indianapolis make similar changes to the law.
Steele’s bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee and Young’s bill has been assigned to the Senate Committee on Corrections and Criminal Law but neither has received a hearing.
In addition to cleaning the language for individuals charged but not convicted, McMillin’s current bill would also enable individuals who were issued a summons but never arrested to obtain an expungement. Judges in Monroe County, in particular, have been taking a strict reading the statute and have not been granting expungements for summons.
The committee unanimously passed two amendments to the bill.
One amendment corrected a hiccup in the original statute by making the petition for expungement and order confidential. Under current law, the record becomes restricted but the filing for the expungement and the court order are publicly available.
The second amendment, proposed by Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, would remove the requirement that prosecutors notify the victim when an expungement petition is filed. Pierce said he put the language together after a local prosecutor told him about a victim who had traveled a long distance and appeared before a judge only to be told the court, by law, had to grant the expungement.
Rep. Ryan Dvorak, D-South Bend, raised concerns about eliminating the victim notification, saying he wanted them told of the expungement.
McMillin said the requirement for notification would be eliminated only for those crimes where expungement was automatic and the judge had no discretion. These offenses, he said, are mostly low-level nonviolent crimes and alerting the victims of the petition causes them to live through, again, an unpleasant part of their lives.