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Reducing the Price Paid by Felons

It is a bit misleading to suggest that people who are convicted and serve their time without incident are truly viewed as having paid their debt to society. Many states do not allow felons to vote, to serve on a jury, to hold public office, to own a firearm, or to hold certain professional licenses. Additionally, a felony conviction can make it hard for someone to get a lease, apply for a loan, or gain employment. There are many instances in which it seems rather unfair to have the consequences of a single mistake follow someone throughout their lives. Some recent legislation in Kentucky is aimed at loosening some of the restrictions that keep apart those who have returned to society.

Kentucky law allows people to file petitions seeking to have misdemeanors and violations expunged from all public records five years after they serve their sentences or complete probation, whichever occurs later. An expunged charge or conviction is essentially erased and treated as if it never happened. It does not need to be disclosed on most applications (the main exception is an employment application for a law enforcement position), should not show up on any background checks, and returns the person to first-offender status.

House Bill 40, sponsored by Rep. Darryl Owens and prefiled last May, sought to expand the scope of expungement to cover certain low-level felonies punishable by one to five years in prison. Rep. Owens argued that the bill is about “redemption” and helping people who commit specific Class D felonies “to become successful, productive, employable citizens of the commonwealth.” After a few amendments, the bill was signed by Governor Bevin and takes effect in July. Approximately 61 Class D non-violent felonies (including third-degree burglary, prescription forgery, and failure to pay child support) are now eligible to be wiped from a person’s criminal record five years after completion of sentence.

More than 5.85 million Americans are barred from voting due to laws that disenfranchise citizens convicted of felony offenses. Disenfranchisement policies vary widely among the states, with two states having no restrictions at all (not even for those in prison) on one end of the spectrum and three states that severely restrict voting rights on the other. Only these three – Florida, Iowa, and Kentucky — prohibit voting even after a person has served his or her prison sentence and is no longer on probation or parole. The vast majority of states automatically restore voting rights to all people, although at different points after the completion of their sentence.

Based on figures from 2010, an estimated 243,842 Kentuckians (including 180,984 people who have completed their sentences) are barred from exercising the right to vote. Also sponsored by Rep. Owens, House Bill 70 proposes to amend the Kentucky constitution to exclude a convicted felon from the right to vote until expiration of probation or final discharge from parole or maximum expiration of sentence. The bill would allow the voting public to decide whether to allow automatic restoration of voting rights to most felons once they’ve completed their sentences. Those convicted of crimes involving treason, murder, sexual offenses or bribery in an election would still not be eligible. The bill awaits approval in the Senate.

America is supposed to be the land of second chances. Integrating former criminals back into society as contributing members is far more successful if fewer barriers are thrown in the way. If you have any questions about this topic, you can find out more by discussing it with one of the criminal defense attorneys at Church, Langdon, Lopp, Banet Law. We have years of experience helping people, and we can help you. Based in New Albany, Indiana, we proudly serve communities throughout Kentuckiana; Floyd County, IN; Clark County, IN and Jefferson County, KY. Contact us by calling (812) 725-8224 or through our online form.

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