Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Expungement Backlogs

I occasionally handle expungement petitions on behalf of clients who have been charged with crimes but not convicted. This is a process by which the court can order the State Police and the local arresting agency to destroy all records of a person's arrest, including finger prints, mug shots, etc.

It is a very straight-forward process. Either the client is eligible for expungement pursuant to the statute, or he is not. In order to be eligible, the client must have resolved the charge without a conviction, he can have no other convictions on his record for anything else, and there must be no other charges currently pending against him.

If he is eligible, the State's Attorney can still object and request a hearing. The State has never objected in any of my cases. Even though all of my expungement petitions have been granted, I am still waiting for the actual records to be expunged for two separate clients. These two clients have been waiting almost one year for the expungement of their arrest records. I have had to wait just as long in all of the expungements that I have done in the past. By not destroying the records, the police departments are in direct violation of a court order, but they simply do not care. Repeated phone calls and letters have no effect.

So, I was happy to see the new Expungement Backlog Accountability Law which was included in the recent amendments to the expungement statutes which took effect January 1, 2010. This new law requires the State Police to report the Governor and the Attorney General, and to make public on the State Police website, the following information for the previous fiscal year:

(1) the number of petitions to expunge received;
(2) the number of petitions to expunge to which they have objected;
(3) the number of orders to expunge received;
(4) the number of orders to expunge records completed;
(5) the number of orders to expunge records that have not been completed.

I don't see any enforcement provisions or penalties in this new law, so I question the actual "accountability" that it will bring to the State Police, but it is a great start.

There are several other amendments to the expungement statute which I have not addressed. Here is a link to the complete text of the amendments. Here is a link to the State Appellate Defender's Expungement Handbook revised for 2010. I am also adding this Handbook to the Forms Archive.

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