News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Indiana Legislature

October 14, 2011

Legislative fix may be needed for new law

INDIANAPOLIS — A new law that gives thousands of Indiana residents the legal right to shield their criminal histories may need a legislative fix for it to work as intended.

The law, aimed at making it easier for people with years-old arrests for low-level crimes to find employment, has hit some snags since it went into effect July 1. 

Some judges have delayed making decisions on requests to close arrest records until they get more direction on how to implement it.

In addition, the way the original law is worded has caused the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles to question whether its records are covered.

On Thursday, members of the Indiana Criminal Code Commission, were asked to consider some legislative changes to clear up the confusion. 

State Sen. Brent Steele, the Republican chairman of the commission, said he’s fielded questions about the new law from judges, prosecutors, and defense lawyers from around the state. What they told him, he said: “Despite our best intentions, it’s really not quite in a workable fashion.”

The law’s legislative sponsors say its intent was clear: “It gives people a second chance,” said Rep. Eric Turner, a conservative Republican from Cicero who teamed up with liberal Democrat Sen. Greg Taylor of Indianapolis to get the legislation passed.

The law allows persons arrested or convicted of a nonviolent Class D felony or misdemeanor to petition a court to close off access to those records to all but law enforcement.

Persons with a conviction can make the request eight years after serving their sentence if they’ve stayed out of trouble; persons who were acquitted or cleared of wrongdoing can make the request sooner. There are some exemptions; sex offenders, for example, aren’t eligible.

The major impact of the law: It means people who are granted that clearance would no longer have to disclose their arrest or conviction to potential employers averse to hiring someone with a criminal history.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels signed the law on July 1, but there  have been bumps along the way.

For example, the current bill directs law enforcement agencies not to disclose records that have been restricted. That caused BMV officials to question whether their records – which would include driving-related misdemeanors and felonies –  are also covered.

The fixes proposed in a draft presented to the commission 

includes language that would cover the BMV and other government agencies with access to criminal records.

It also clarifies the process for filing and reviewing a records-shield petition. 

The fixes could be made in the next legislative session, which begins in January.

But even without them, the Indiana Supreme Court is encouraging judges to move ahead with implementing the law.

The court’s division of courts administration has a written  guide to the law for judges and court clerks. And its developed a form that can be filed by someone who doesn’t have the money to hire a lawyer to petition the court. That form is posted on the website of Indiana Supreme Court, www.in.gov/judiciary.

Maureen Hayden is Statehouse bureau chief for The Tribune-Star. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

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