By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A bill from Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, would allow those convicted of misdemeanors or certain non-violent felonies to have them expunged from their record.
Ward told Alabama Daily News that the main goal of the bill is to reduce prison recidivism by getting former inmates back to work more easily.
“We’ve been saying that if you really want to reform criminal justice efforts then part of it is helping people get a job,” Ward said. “Often times a criminal record is a barrier to someone getting a job.”
Senate Bill 14 would allow those who have been convicted of certain misdemeanor offenses and non-violent crimes who have fulfilled all of their parole requirements to have that conviction expunged from their record.
Alabama currently allows the expungement of certain misdemeanor charges, but this would be the first time convictions could be taken off one’s record.
Ward said that violent crimes such as rape, murder or burglary would not apply under this bill. He said it’s mostly geared towards Class A misdemeanors.
“There are folks who have done things and they’ve made mistakes but they’ve paid for their crimes and they did their time and paid their fees of restitution and pardons and parole has said they’re clear with us, then why shouldn’t we do this,” Ward said.
Some examples of Class A misdemeanors are assault in the third degree, domestic violence, theft of property in the third degree, possession of drug paraphernalia and criminal mischief in the second degree.
Ward is currently running for the Republican nomination for Alabama Supreme Court Place 1, challenging current Justice Greg Shaw. Ward is also a member of Gov. Kay Ivey’s criminal justice reform study group that is in the process of making legislative recommendations to help decrease violence and crowding in Alabama’s prisons.
Measures helping recently released inmates have easier access to employment has been a policy idea suggested by some group members.
A similar bill passed the Senate unanimously in 2019 but did not have time to pass through the House committee.
Rep. Jim Hill, R-Odenville, is the chair of the House Judiciary Committee and said he needs to read the bill but likes the general idea behind it.
“The idea, I think is a good one,” Hill told ADN. “I have no philosophical problems with the bill but I haven’t read it.”
The pre-filed bill also states that the filing cost for expungement would be raised from $300 to $500, but Ward said he wants to work on an amendment to lower that cost.
“First and foremost, I want to see the bill pass, and I don’t want to get so stuck on that number that the bill dies, but I also don’t want a bill to pass that only the wealthiest in society can afford expungement,” Ward said. “I want to come up with a compromise so it’s fair and not unaffordable to anyone who wants one, but also not putting a labor burden on those processing the time.”
The bill would also allow those who prove to be indigent to apply to be on a payment plan.
According to the Restoration of Rights Project, 12 other states currently have no expungement law for adult convictions.
States that do allow expungement have varying requirements and wait times that can range from five to 10 years before a conviction can be taken off one’s record.
Senate Bill 14 requires a person to wait 90 days after their certificate of parole has been granted before they can apply for expungement.
Allowing criminal charges to be expunged in Alabama is a relatively new concept and wasn’t allowed until 2014.
In order for charges to be expunged in Alabama, they have to end with a not guilty verdict, a dismissal of the case, a grand jury no bill or through completion of a diversion program.
A spokeswoman from the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency told ADN that since 2014 there have been 4,050 expungement cases in Alabama. Some of the most common crimes being expunged are driving under the influence, public intoxication, possession of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia, theft of property in the third and fourth degree and domestic violence in the third degree.
The legislative session begins on Feb. 4.