Alabama Legislature improved (marginally) the Expungement Statute. It might help someone now.

Many know I did not think highly of the Alabama expungement statute. In a blog post entitled, Alabama Expungement Statute is almost useless, I wrote:

When the law passed, the current Alabama expungement statute was received with great fanfare. However, the statute was too heavily amended on the floor of the Senate to be very effective. Having a broad expungement statute is so beneficial.

As described by the ABA: “In law, “expungement” is the process by which a record of criminal conviction is destroyed or sealed from state or federal record. An expungement order directs the court to treat the criminal conviction as if it had never occurred, essentially removing it from a defendant’s criminal record as well as, ideally, the public record.”

One of my clients experienced this uselessness first hand. As reported from WAAT-31 news station out of Huntsville,

Varner spent the past month defending Demorris Lauderdale for a crime he says his client didn’t commit. Lauderdale was jailed on a capital murder charge after Huntsville police believed he was the man who killed 19-year-old Austin Rich in March.

Lauderdale’s attorney presented surveillance pictures showing his client hundreds of miles away in Georgia, near the time of the murder. Varner says, because of the law, the capital murder charge stays on his record.

“Every employer that presumably does a background check on him, it’ll show up that he was charged with capital murder,” Varner said.

Varner tells WAAY 31 the judge dismissed the case against Lauderdale without prejudice, meaning police could file charges against him down the road in this case.

Previously, the Alabama expungement law did not allow violent felony offenses to be cleared under any circumstances. After the 2017 amendment, the violent charge could be expunged only if a jury comes to a not guilty verdict. Lauderdale didn’t go to trial, and even though the murder case against him was dismissed, he doesn’t qualify.

Today, the law was improved somewhat today. It still will not help Demorris. As reported by the Montgomery Advertiser:

Gov. Kay Ivey has signed bills that broaden the offenses eligible for expungement and create a database to track the movement of police officers.

The governor’s office announced the signatures in a broad announcement of bill signings April 23.

The expungement bill, sponsored by Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, D-Birmingham, will allow individuals convicted of misdemeanors or violations to apply for expungement of their convictions. Applications could take place three years after conviction, and after all fines have been paid and court orders fulfilled.

Violent offenses, sexual offenses, offenses involving moral turpitude and serious traffic offenses would not be eligible for expungement.

You can see how out-of-whack Alabama is in this area by reviewing this 50 State Comparison chart:

These new changes are certainly a step in the right direction but we have a long way to go in order to have a just expungement statute. It is smart to have expansive expungement: Scrubbing The Past To Give Those With A Criminal Record A Second Chance

“It hurts communities, it hurts counties and it hurts states if their citizens cannot be productively employed or aren’t part of the tax base,” says American University law professor Jenny Roberts, who has written extensively on the collateral consequences of convictions. “So there’s certainly an economic incentive for allowing people to move beyond their criminal record.”

. . .

With background checks ubiquitous for jobs, schools, mortgage applications and more, even one conviction — and sometimes even just one arrest — can dog people for years, critics say, relegating them to permanent second-class status.

“No one should underestimate how much even the most minor of misdemeanor convictions — including marijuana or trespassing or any kind of conviction — can affect someone’s ability to get a job, to get housing and to function fully in society,” says Roberts, who also co-directs the Criminal Justice Clinic at American University in Washington, D.C.