"Common sense" expungement changes

In February, the General Assembly passed a law that makes more charges eligible for expungement but reduces the number of charges that must be automatically expunged. The law takes effect on May 16. The only time municipal courts must automatically process an expungement is when someone was fingerprinted for a dismissed offense covered by the expungement law.

In 2009, the state legislature passed a bill that resulted in thousands of automatic expungements, placing a huge burden on municipal courts. "These expungements are not ‘automatic,’" explained Tiger Wells, government affairs liaison for the Municipal Association. "A real person has to do the leg work involved in expunging the offenses."

The 2009 law opened up the floodgates for municipal courts, said Wells.

"This recently passed legislation was a shot at making some common sense changes to how expungements are handled," said Wells. "They benefit both the court staff and the person seeking an expungement."

Under the new law, if a person is charged in municipal court with an offense that is later dismissed or otherwise discharged, the individual may request and receive an expungement of that offense at no charge.

"The idea is that by having individuals apply for these expungements, we lessen the burden on municipal courts," said Wells.

If a person is charged with an offense and fingerprinted then the charges are later dismissed or otherwise discharged, the need to automatically expunge the offense remains.

While the new law does not require courts to go back and automatically process expungements for past offenses now eligible for expungement, it does allow a person to apply for and receive expungements for past dismissed or discharged charges that are eligible for expungement under the new law.