Task force recommends expungement filings go online

A panel advising the Indiana Supreme Court on which trial court records should go online has recommended that petitions seeking to expunge criminal records eventually be posted on the state court’s website for public case information.

The Advisory Task Force on Remote Access to and Privacy of Electronic Court Records on Friday recommended those filings be posted on the mycase.in.gov website. That site is the portal for public information from Indiana trial courts that have adopted the state-sponsored Odyssey case management system.

The task force unanimously recommended the petitions be posted online until the point at which a judge orders an offense expunged. After an order is issued, the expungement case file would be removed, as would state court records of the expunged offense.

“Once that order is issued, then that case is confidential and you won’t see it on mycase,” Director and Counsel for Trial Court Technology Mary DePrez told the task force. But in a case where an expungement petition is denied, the case would remain available online under the task force’s recommendation.

It’s uncertain how soon trial court orders will be posted on mycase.in.gov, but it won’t likely happen until next year or later. The Supreme Court will act on recommendations about putting orders, pleadings and filings online after the task force reports its recommendations at a later date.

Panel member and Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law professor Joel Schumm expressed initial reservations about posting expungement records online. He said doing so could harm people trying to get a job, for instance, if the crime turns up in a background check.

“Any low-level felony case could potentially be expunged,” he said, noting that even after an offense is removed from someone’s record, private vendors and third-party web sites may continue to report the offense. “You can’t necessarily put that genie back in the bottle.”

DePrez noted that under bulk-sharing agreements the courts have with outside vendors, those third parties are required to reload the entire database with each new data dump, mostly on a monthly basis.

“Cases that have been expunged will not be available to them,” she said.

Some panelists said there was a public interest in keeping expungement petitions public, particularly in high-profile cases where a prosecutor may not consent or where victims or interested parties might wish to address the matter in court.

The group’s decision to post expungement petitions online came as it separately recommended that all convictions, abstracts of judgment and sentencing orders in criminal cases be posted online, with the exception of “miscellaneous criminal” cases types. Those cases most often deal with warrants, subpoenas, interstate compact issues, mental health issues and other matters that may not be subject to public disclosure.

The panel also voted 7-1 to recommend that records in all juvenile proceedings be kept off the website, after some discussion about records in juvenile proceedings that are not confidential.

Task force members Ken Falk, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, and Schumm said a preferable policy is to shield all juvenile proceedings from online access even if they may be public records. “This would be consistent with what happens at the appellate court now,” Schumm said.

Hoosier State Press Association Executive Director and General Counsel Stephen Key cast the lone vote against the recommendation. Key said he believed information that was public in juvenile cases should be posted online and that it was possible to address clerks’ concerns so that only that information the Legislature has deemed public would be posted.

The task force’s next meeting is Sept. 2 in the historic reference room of the Indiana State Library, 315 W. Ohio St., Indianapolis. More information about the task force is available here

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