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General Assembly

Criminal code overhaul wins governor’s pen


– Gov. Mike Pence on Monday backed bills to overhaul Indiana’s criminal code and allow some criminals to erase old convictions.

“Indiana should be the worst place in America to commit a serious crime and the best place, once you’ve done your time, to get a second chance,” Pence said in a written statement.

“The legislation that I sign today will reform and strengthen Indiana’s criminal code by focusing resources on the most serious offenses, and the related legislation will give a second chance to those who strive to re-enter society and become productive, law-abiding citizens.”

The two bills were House Bill 1006 and House Bill 1482.

The first one is a massive overhaul of Indiana’s criminal justice system that won’t take effect until July 2014. Lawmakers still have work to do on the measure, including finding a possible local funding component.

The goals of the overhaul are to make punishment more proportional to the crime, force the most serious offenders to serve longer sentences and divert drug addicts and low-level offenders from state prisons to local treatment and supervision programs to reduce recidivism.

The bill increases the number of felony levels to six from the current four and spells out new credit-time rules for early release.

All felons would have to serve 75 percent of their sentences, as opposed to the current 50 percent.

A few severe crimes would require 85 percent.

At the same time, the bill is designed to give local judges more discretion over when to suspend prison sentences for some crimes, which means some offenders would be spared prison and stay in community corrections programs.

The expungement bill, according to Pence, helps offenders rebuild their lives by allowing them to have their records expunged after a sustained period without re-offending, which will strengthen their opportunities for gainful employment. It is effective July 1.

Hoosiers can file only one petition for expungement during their lifetime, though that petition can cover more than one crime.

Generally, most sex or violent offenders, those convicted of a homicide charge, and those who have committed official misconduct are not eligible to have their records cleared.

Some crimes involving bodily harm are eligible, including battery and driving while intoxicated causing death.

The bill sets up processes for expunging various types of records, starting with arrest records for someone not prosecuted or whose conviction was overturned.

For misdemeanor convictions, a local court judge must expunge as early as five years after the conviction if the person petitioning has completed the sentence, has no charges pending and hasn’t been convicted of another crime in the last five years.

Similar proceedings exist for Class D felonies, which can be expunged eight years after conviction. The records are removed from public view, though law enforcement can still access them.

Next, the bill allows Hoosiers to seek expungement for more serious felonies eight years after the end of the sentence, but a judge is not required to grant it.

And there is an opportunity for expunging crimes resulting in serious bodily injury 10 years after a completed sentence, again at the discretion of a judge.

In this category, the prosecutor must also grant consent.

In the last two categories of crimes, the records are available to the public but are marked as expunged.