Full Senate to vote on allowing criminal records be expunged - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Full WV Senate to vote on allowing criminal records be expunged

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The current law to allow the expungement of misdemeanors committed when a person is between 18 and 26 years old from a person's criminal record could be expanded.

State senators debated the details heavily last week, looking at several factors.

Senate Bill 365 would do away with the age window of crimes only committed between the ages of 18-26, and it also would include a few felonies on the list of crimes able to be expunged. Tom Smith, counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee, explained that a big list of crimes are not able to be expunged, such as violent crimes or crimes with a minor as the victim.

Smith also said a person could not, under Senate Bill 365, ask for the expungement until one year after serving any kind of punishment or supervision for a misdemeanor and five years after serving time in prison, on probation or parole after a felony.

Smith said the bill could apply to more than one conviction, but it would have to have occurred within the same "transaction," such as forgery and uttering charges on the same check. The person asking for the charges to be expunged would not be permitted to have any charges pending against him or her and also would have to prove to the court that he or she has been rehabilitated and is a law-abiding person.

The law also would requires notices of the expungement be given to everyone involved in the case -- the lawyer, victim and prosecutor -- and a court would have a hearing to determine if the expungement would be granted.

Smith also explained that a person who loses any employment benefits because of their crime, such as a state employee who lost his or her pension, would not become eligible for that benefit even after the expungement.

The West Virginia State Police would be required to maintain a database of expungement requests, because only one would per person would be granted. Smith said the database also would serve as a record if a person is convicted of a later offense that would carry an enhanced penalty for second or third "strikes," the previously expunged crime would count against a person in that circumstance.

"This could be used against the defendant for that if they ever get in trouble again," Smith said.

And the person requesting the expungement would be required to pay an additional $100 filing fee that Smith said would go to the West Virginia State Police to maintain the registries.

Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell, said during a committee meeting that he had "real concerns" about the bill allowing felonies to be expunged "at whatever age."

"I think that's not the best direction, from a public policy and public safety standpoint," Jenkins said.

But Sen. Donald Cookman, D-Hampshire, told lawmakers in the committee meeting that he didn't want to return each year to try to change the bill and would rather make all the necessary changes in one sweep.

"Let's have faith and trust in our judges and that the system works," Cookman said.

The bill is before the full Senate this week.