Missouri residents can get some criminal records expunged under new law

Saturday, July 14, 2012 | 4:05 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — Missourians who years ago passed bad checks, used a forged credit card or committed other types of crimes could get records of their misdeeds deleted.

Broad public safety legislation signed into law this past week by Gov. Jay Nixon includes a provision allowing for applications to expunge certain criminal records. People would need to wait 20 years for a felony and 10 years for a misdemeanor and have completed their prison terms, probation and parole. They also would need to have paid restitution and not have committed another crime. About a dozen offenses would be eligible.

Sen. Brad Lager, who sponsored the proposal, said it started as an attempt to help people regain firearm rights. Lager, who represents a northwestern Missouri district, said a constituent pleaded guilty to passing bad checks in his early 20s and after many years wants to be able to take his son hunting.

Lager, R-Savannah, said the felony needed to be erased to satisfy federal requirements. He said the offenses included in the legislation were narrowly targeted to avoid violent or drug crimes.

"There needs to be a process by which good people, who have paid their penalty and shown two decades worth of responsible living, have the same rights to enjoy firearms and the hunting activities as all the rest of us," he said.

The National Rifle Association asked people to urge Nixon to sign the legislation in a message posted on its website.

Prosecutors and the Missouri Press Association had expressed concerns. Prosecutors said previously the measure could cover numerous cases and impose a burden without additional funding. The press group objected to closing court records.

The Missouri Press Association sent a letter last month urging Nixon to veto the bill. Executive Director Doug Crews said closing court records could inhibit the ability of journalists to do their jobs and could make it harder for newspapers and other businesses to check on potential new employees. He said employers might want to know about past instances of passing bad checks and other criminal offenses.

"We're just opposed to anything that interferes with a reporter's ability to inspect and copy documents that are generated by a public governmental body," Crews said.

To have a criminal record expunged, people would file a petition that names as defendants law enforcement agencies, courts, prosecuting attorneys, repositories of criminal records and others believed to possess the records. Anyone not named would not be required to delete their records.

Petitioners would provide identifying information, including their name, address and driver's license number along with the type of offense, case number and date and county where they were arrested. They also would pay a $100 surcharge for each petition. After a request is filed, a judge would hold a hearing to determine if the petition meets the requirements and if the person deserves to have their record expunged.

When petitions are granted, officials possessing the records would destroy them and any record related to the crime would be removed from electronic files kept by state officials. Files kept by the courts would be sealed and only made available through a court order. Rights sacrificed because of a criminal conviction — such as serving on juries — would be restored.

Nonetheless, even after someone's criminal history has been expunged, the crime would be considered a previous offense if the person commits another crime.

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