JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Some lawmakers want to make it easier for Missourians who are serving time for non-violent crimes to have their records erased automatically.
Four years ago, lawmakers approved legislation to broaden the type of criminal offenses that could be expunged from a Missourian’s record. Since that bill went into effect, the two Republicans sponsoring the measures said Tuesday that less than 1% are taking advantage of clearing their record.
“Under Missouri law, if you want to get expunged right now, you have to go through essentially a court petition and that costs a lot of money and a lot of time,” said Rep. Phil Christofanelli, R-St. Peters.
Back in January 2018, the state changed Missouri’s expungement law following legislation passed by the General Assembly to add nearly 2,000 offenses to the list.
“If the intention when the bill was passed in 2018 was to actually help people get a fresh start, it’s not working,” said Crista Hogan, the executive director of the Springfield Metro Bar Association. “I would never attempt to do it because it’s complicated and if you mess up, you’ve messed up for a pretty long period of time before you can file again.”
Hogan helps Missourians in southwest Missouri have their records expunged. She said in Greene County over the last few years, only 50 people successfully erase their record.
“Despite some pretty robust and successful efforts, only 50 people a year have gotten across the finish line with the petition-based expungement,” Hogan said. “Doing it by operation of law or automatically, people wouldn’t have to do anything, they wouldn’t have to petition, they wouldn’t have to pay, all they would have to do is what they are already doing which is not get into trouble again.”
Christofanelli said the problem with the previous law is it requires a petition to be filed, which can cost you time and money.
“In my law practice, we have to charge several thousand dollars,” Christofanelli said.
Christofanelli filed House Bill 352 and Sen.-elect Curtis Trent, R-Springfield, filed similar legislation in the senate that would allow eligible offenses to be automatically expunged.
“Once people pay their debt to society, they should have an opportunity to start over, and they should have a clean slate,” Trent said.
During a virtual press conference Tuesday, Empower Missouri estimates that 500,000 Missourians would benefit from the Clean Slate legislation.
“Beyond that, studies have shown that expungement decreases recidivism which helps keep our communities safer, and it benefits the economy by boosting the number of gainfully employed adults,” criminal justice advocate Katie Sinquefield said.
Sinquefield said there are roughly 1.8 million adults in Missouri who have a criminal record which prohibits them from possibly renting a house, getting a job or volunteering at their child’s school.
The legislation would allow misdemeanors to be expunged after three years and felonies to be erased after five years, as long as they don’t involve sexual or violent crimes.
Christofanelli said those who are eligible would be put into a state database and judges and parole officers would be required to tell a person at sentencing they would be eligible for expungement.
“We will ship those names and records over to the courthouses and then the courts can do essentially an omnibus order sealing those records,” Christofanelli said. “We’re going to have an online portal that people can go and check that their convictions have been expunged.”
He said if the legislation becomes law, it would take a few years to go into effect because the state would have to build a new program to help with automation.
Over the next few months, some marijuana offenses will be automatically expunged following the passage of Amendment 3. Those that are serving time in a correctional facility or are on parole for a marijuana offense will be required to go through the legal process to have their record expunge.
The session starts in Jefferson City on Jan. 4.