Missouri Expands Criminal Record Expungement While New York Lags Behind

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Missouri Governor Jay Nixon recently signed into law a vast expansion of the state’s expungement law, making more people eligible to have their criminal records sealed when the law takes effect in 2018. Under the current law in Missouri, only certain convictions related to financial or property damage crimes were eligible for expungement, with a waiting period of 20 years post completion of sentence for a felony conviction and 10 years post completion of sentence for a misdemeanor conviction. Driving while intoxicated (DWI) convictions were also eligible for expungement 10 years post sentence.

The new law greatly expands eligibility for expungement, while also reducing the wait time required before a person can apply to have their criminal record sealed. Under the new law, someone convicted of a felony must wait 7 years post completion of sentence before applying to have their record expunged. A person convicted of a misdemeanor must wait only 3 years. The new law also significantly increases the types of offenses eligible for expungement. However, violent felonies, sex offenses and domestic assaults are not eligible.

“Missourians who have paid their debt to society and become law-abiding citizens deserve a chance to get a job and support their families,” Gov. Nixon said. “This bill represents a reasonable, balanced approach and I’m pleased to sign it into law today.”

To qualify for expungement when the new law takes effect, a person must not have not been convicted of any new crimes since they completed their sentence, must have paid their fines and any restitution on the underlying case, and have no new charges pending. Once expungement is granted, the records would become closed to the public but still accessible to law enforcement agencies and employers that are entitled to that information under state or federal law. Missouri joins Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and New Jersey as states where expungement laws were recently updated and expanded.

These states stand in stark contrast to New York, where there is no expungement law at all and a narrowly limited criminal record sealing law. In New York, post conviction record sealing is severely restricted to a narrow band of drug related offenses. Only those who successfully completed a judicially sanctioned drug treatment program are eligible to apply to have their criminal record sealed. Most non-violent crimes, low level drug offenses, and DWI’s are not eligible for sealing in New York, regardless of how far in the past the conviction took place, and even if a person has never been convicted of any further crimes.

People living with the stigma of a criminal record throughout New York, from Albany to Erie County, Westchester to Brooklyn and Queens, Nassau and Suffolk, must wait for New York to bring the state’s record sealing law in line with traditionally conservative states like Missouri and Kentucky. Several bills in the New York State Assembly and Senate have attempted to change the law and expand criminal record sealing. Unfortunately, these bills have thus far failed to gain the votes needed to make an expanded sealing or expungement law the reality in New York.

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