Opposition strong to bill allowing expungement of Class D felonies

February 06, 2004|HERB BROCK

Some area lawmakers and prosecutors would like the 2004 General Assembly to erase from its legislative agenda a bill that would permit the expungement of the criminal records of persons convicted of the lowest class of felonies.

Under House Bill 371, people convicted of a Class D felony or series of Class D felonies arising from the same incident would be allowed, after 10 years, to petition the trial courts to have the crimes expunged from their records.

Class D felonies include such crimes as criminal facilitation, wanton endangerment, certain kinds of assaults, perjury, eavesdropping, possession of a forgery device, and alteration of prescription drugs,

The process leading to an expungement would involve a court hearing and a recommendation from the commonwealth's attorney. The expungement would take place once the judge approves it and the petitioner pays $250. Victims would be notified of the expungement by the court.


Under current state law, persons convicted of misdemeanors may petition the trial courts, after five years following their convictions, to have their crimes expunged from their records. Under HB 371, the fee for that expungement would be increased from $25 to $50.

HB 371 was posted in the House Judiciary Committee on Jan. 30; as of end of General Assembly business Wednesday, the committee still had not considered the bill.

Measure has little chance of passage

A survey of area legislators and commonwealth's attorneys indicates there is strong opposition to the bill. In fact, the legislators contacted this week said the measure had little chance of passage, with some indicating it likely will not even get out of the House Judiciary Committee.

"We need to have a record of all felony charges as they are very serious in nature and because the public needs to be careful not to employ some of these people in schools, nursing homes and similar facilities and institutions," said 22nd District Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville.

"These (criminal records) are public records and they are a history that should not be erased by judges and prosecutors," Buford said. "They are a history that allows people to have some way to discover who is in their presence. (Having all felonies remain on the public record) is not meant to scare people, but it does give citizens with concerns about neighbors, prospective employees, and people who work in positions where they deal with school children, elderly people and other vulnerable people a place to verify or alleviate their concerns."

Buford said the bill represents another step in an overall trend of absolving people of wrong-doing and allowing people to not take responsibility for their behavior.

"I feel we are moving in a direction to make it appear people who have done something wrong never did anything wrong," he said.

But the man who represents Boyle County in the Senate believes this particular step toward what he sees as another move to coddle criminals won't be taken.

"This bill has constitutional problems, I believe, and I am also concerned but cannot yet prove that this may be special legislation for some person not identified by the sponsor (Rep. Rob Wilkey, D-Scottsville)," said Buford. "This is of great concern to me, and I feel it will cause the bill to fail, just on that one count.

"For many, many reasons, I believe House Bill 371 is DOA (dead on arrival)," he said.

Fifty-Fourth District Rep. Mike Harmon, R-Danville, said he also is concerned about the "sponsor's intent."

"I will try to determine what (Wilkey) seeks to accomplish with this bill, exactly why he wants to the legislature to take what I consider to be an extraordinary step," Harmon said.

"Otherwise, I am deeply concerned when it comes to diminishing the act and prosecution of a Class D felony," he said.

Wilkey could not be reached for comment Thursday or this morning.

Opposition to HB 371 also comes from 36th District Rep. Lonnie Napier, R-Lancaster.

"A lot of Class D felonies, while lower on the criminal totem pole than other crimes, are violent acts, and we, as citizens, have a right to know who committed them," Napier said. "These crimes should remain on the public record."

Napier said he does not oppose current state law allowing misdemeanants to petition trial courts to have their minor crimes erased from the records.

"In the case of misdemeanors, I can see allowing expungement," he said. "These are, by and large, nonviolent crimes, minor deals, and the people should have the right to have their slates wiped clean of these kinds of crimes."

Prosecutor believes bill goes too far by including violent felonies

Boyle-Mercer Commonwealth's Attorney Richard Bottoms said he might not have any concerns about the bill if it only pertained to nonviolent Class D felonies. But as the measure stands now, he is opposed to it.

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