Kentuckians with certain Class D felony convictions are now eligible to apply to clear their criminal records as long as they have stayed out of trouble for five years.
The new law also allows people with gubernatorial pardons to expunge convictions and loosens restrictions for clearing misdemeanor convictions.
Louisville attorney Benham Sims, a former Jefferson District Court judge, said the new law will make it easier for people with criminal records to get jobs and get on with their lives.
“The number one way to reduce a return to jail is employment,” Sims said. “We need to allow these people to move on.”
The new law applies to 61 Class D felonies, which constitute about 70 percent of Class D felonies committed. Those with eligible convictions have to wait five years after completing their sentences (incarceration, parole, restitution, probation, etc.) before applying.
The state estimates about 91,000 people with felony convictions are now eligible to have their records cleared.
Eligible convictions include certain types of drug possession, criminal mischief, receiving stolen property and not paying child support. A full list can be found here.
Sims said the internet has turned a felony conviction into a “life sentence” making the new law all the more important for people trying to turn their lives around after a criminal conviction.
“Because of the availability of criminal records and the ease of access and low expense of looking up a person’s record, it’s far more impactful on this generation than it was on my generation,” Sims said.
The new law also removes the five-year “lookback period” for clearing many misdemeanors. Now people can clear misdemeanors five years after completing their sentences.
Sims estimated that the new law makes hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians eligible to have misdemeanor records expunged.
Before applying for an expungement, those who think they’re eligible must first get the Kentucky State Police to certify that they have met all the requirements — a process which could take 6 months or longer. The application costs $40 and can be found here.
Once the certificate is returned, applicants complete an expungement application and turn it in to the circuit court clerk in the county where the conviction occurred. That application costs $500 for felonies and $100 for misdemeanors and will soon be available on the Administrative Office of the Courts website.
Marc Theriault, general counsel for the AOC, said prosecutors will then have an opportunity to protest the application if they want to.
“If they find a charge that they think should really not be expunged or if they think that somehow that individual has slipped through the cracks on the eligibility screening, then they can object,” Theriault said.
If the judge rules in favor of the motion, the original conviction will be vacated, charges dismissed and records in possession of the state and law enforcement will be cleared.
The AOC recommends that applicants hire an attorney to navigate the process if they can afford one. For those who can’t afford a lawyer, the Faulkner Kaelin Law Office is offering free expungement help for people in Louisville.
An organization called Clean Slate Kentucky also has information on where to find free expungement in other regions of the state.