In the decades that Rock County District Attorney David O’Leary has been a prosecutor, he’s learned it’s not just juveniles who can suffer for years for acts that were ill-thought-out and possibly out of character.
“I’ve seen individuals do stupid things at any age,” he said.
O’Leary urged lawmakers at a public hearing Thursday to not only adopt proposed changes to the state’s rules governing the expungement of certain crimes, but also give people of all ages an opportunity to have their records wiped clean.
O’Leary was not alone. Various other representatives of the criminal justice system also came out Thursday in favor of Assembly Bill 93, which modify the state’s expungement rules.
Current law allows for the records of various offenses to be expunged as long as they were committed by someone who had not reached the age of 25. Even then, certain limits apply.
There can be no elimination, for instance, of records of felonies or misdemeanors carrying a maximum prison term of more than six years. Also, courts can issue expungement orders only at sentencing proceedings and the records in question can be eliminated only after offenders have served out their sentences.
Assembly Bill 93 would instead let offenders seek expungement orders a year after completing their sentences. The fee for filing such a petition would be $100.
Attorney General Brad Schimel said Thursday that he has been an advocate of these sorts of changes for years.
“Unfortunately, the way the law is structured now, if (criminal defendants) don’t ask for expungement at the time of sentencing … they are out of luck,” he said.
He said current practice can seem to send mixed messages to victims, who are often present at sentencing proceedings. Schimel said courts are almost simultaneously being asked to impose a punishment and to decide whether the defendant’s record should eventually be wiped clean.
Rock County Circuit Court Judge James Daly, testifying on the behalf of the Committee of Chief Judges, agreed that the current system is flawed.
“That’s too difficult, for the judge to make a proper or good judgment because we don’t have evidence of how they’re going to do after that,” he said. “It limits our ability to reward people who have turned their lives around.”
Daly also suggested several changes that could be made to the bill, including giving judges discretion over whether they should hold expungement hearings requested by petitioners. He also said judges should be allowed to use letters as their means of denying frivolous petitions. Follow @erikastrebel