COA reverses denied expungement for Elkhart County man

A man who was denied a petition to expunge his criminal record had the pendulum swing in his favor on Tuesday after an appellate panel reversed to grant his expungement request.

The Indiana Court of Appeals in Jason Ball v. State of Indiana, 20A-XP-01521, determined that the Elkhart Superior Court abused its discretion in denying Jason Ball’s request to expunge a criminal record from 1996.

When Ball was just 16, he and his brother broke into a retail sporting goods store while the store was closed and stole several guns worth more than $16,000. Ball’s brother also attempted to break into a bank’s ATM machine while the bank was closed.

Ball later pleaded guilty to one count of Class C felony burglary and one count of Class C felony attempted burglary, leaving him with consecutive sentences of eight years for the burglary count and eight years with five years suspended for the attempted burglary count.

After serving four years in the Department of Correction, Ball was convicted of four alcohol-related misdemeanor offenses in 2000. He sought to expunge all of his convictions, both criminal and misdemeanor, but the trial court only granted his request as to the alcohol-relate crimes. It denied his petition to expunge the felony crimes, finding that Ball had been convicted of four additional offenses after he had been released from the DOC and had failed to show the court that he had paid all fines, fees, and court costs or satisfied his restitution.

After being denied a subsequent petition for expungement in December 2019 without a hearing, Ball filed a motion to reconsider and the trial court held a hearing on the matter in March 2020. It again denied his petition, prompting an appeal.

“Ball argues that the trial court abused its discretion in denying his expungement petition. We agree,” Judge Rudolph Pyle III wrote for the unanimous appellate court.

“Our review of the record reveals that, in 2016, Ball tendered to the trial court a probation department letter, which stated that Ball had paid his probation fees and that restitution had been paid by the co-defendants. Nearly four years later, in his second petition seeking expungement of his felony convictions, Ball tendered to the trial court a certified letter from the county clerk stating that there was no restitution balance due in his case,” the panel wrote.

“We hold that where, as here, a co-defendant in the same case has compensated the victim, the statutory restitution obligation has been satisfied. As a result, Ball has proven by a preponderance of the evidence that the restitution in his case has been satisfied. Therefore, the trial court clearly erred in concluding that his convictions were ineligible for expungement.”

As to the trial court’s other reasons, the appellate court concluded that it was clear that Ball was seeking to expunge two convictions and that the price of the guns he stole were “simply not enough to support the denial of Ball’s expungement petition.”

Noting Ball has been a law-abiding citizen for the past 20 years, has a family and provided letters attesting to his good character and strong work ethic, the appellate court reversed and remanded with instructions for the trial court to grant Ball’s petition and to order his records to be expunged.

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