By Trevor McDonald
Beginning in January 2018, Missourians convicted of certain crimes could have an easier time expunging offenses from their records due to changes in state law.
Expungement laws have been in effect for years in Missouri, but changes will broaden which convictions can be expunged — a process where the offense is cleared from a person’s criminal record and is no longer visible to members of the public. Tenth Circuit Presiding Judge Rachel Bringer Shepherd said that the law’s expanded list of convictions and amended waiting time would offer more opportunities to certain people, along with giving much more weight to a victim’s decision in the matter. The revised law could also provide people with more potential opportunities for jobs and others regaining certain civil rights.
David Brown, an attorney with Wasinger Parham, L.C. in Hannibal, said the goal for expungement is “to place that person in the position that they were before they were convicted of whatever the offense was.” Depending on the severity of the conviction, there are various consequences. He said “collateral” results of some convictions — such as the right to possess a firearm — could be removed through the expungement process. Brown said a job seeker could mark “no” for an expunged charge when applying for several jobs — exceptions apply for careers including insurance and banking jobs and those which require a state license.
Brown said the new expungement law will include forms for people who wish to represent themselves in the expungement process, which must take place within the circuit court of the conviction. Clients can also appear with an attorney for the process. The current law sets up a surcharge of $100 for expungement; that fee will grow to $250 under the new law, and it will be waived for clients who face financial hardship.
Brown said Missouri’s laws are changing all the time, citing a 2017 law change that created a lower-level Class E misdemeanor for convictions involving possession of seven grams or less of marijuana. He anticipated an increase in expungement requests for those types of convictions, due to the stricter consequences that applied during past years. Brown said as the new law goes into effect, there will be consistent cooperation among defense attorneys, prosecuting attorneys and judges as the new law goes into effect.
Several convictions will still be ineligible for expungement, including Class A felonies, felonies that resulted in death, misdemeanor and felony domestic assault, violent felonies and assault or kidnapping. And each person seeking expungement must satisfy all of the conditions of their sentence first — including payment of fines, incarceration and probation or parole.
The revised state law will reduce the wait time for expungement of felonies from 20 years to 10 years; the timeline for expungement of misdemeanors will drop from seven years to three years. However, Shepherd said the file will be sealed and marked “expunged.”
Under current law, the file for an expunged conviction is to be destroyed by agencies with the records. She said court personnel always contact a victim to come forward if they wish, but the new law will give much more weight to the victim’s opinion in granting an expungement. Shepherd said that a person’s individual habits and conduct are considered during an expungement hearing, and she looks for signs that a person has changed and is contributing to the community. Brown said the new law will offer people in those positive situations more chances to move forward.
“This allows for people who have rehabilitated themselves and completed their sentences to move on in their lives, and hopefully put something that was probably a significant burden behind them,” Brown said.
Kevin Knickerbocker, district administrator for the community supervision center and District 3 Probation and Parole Office, said that staff members send out numerous requests for executive clemency to the governor’s office — a different way for people to clear their criminal record — but few of those requests are generally granted. He said that expungement through the courts and clemency through the state are separate processes, they both have the same end goal in mind.
“Ultimately, the best thing you can do for public safety is to help someone be successful in their life,” he said.
Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org