One of the first acts of the 2016 legislative session was to enact laws allowing non-violent felony offenders to apply for expungement.
A year later, that has benefitted nearly a dozen Laurel Countians who had their felony record abolished.
Laurel/Knox Circuit Judge Greg Lay, who is the senior judge in both counties, hears the cases that come from the petitions for expungement.
House Bill 40, which passed during the 206 legislative session, outlines the offenses eligible and processes for expungement. But not all felony offenses are eligible for removal from a criminal history.
"This is for Class D felony offenses," Lay explained. "It does not apply to someone convicted of violent crimes, sexual crimes or any crimes against children. And the person has to wait for five years after their sentence is complete, whether that sentence is prison or probation or other terms. They also have to had paid all fines, court costs or other costs associated with their case."
The expungement does not apply for repeat offenders or habitual felons, Lay explained, and it is nullified if someone who has applied for expungement commits another felony.
"You can only have one expungement," he said. "If you have several felony charges, you can only have one expunged, unless they are all under one incident."
An example of this is if someone were charged with drug possession, fleeing police and tampering with physical evidence - all of which are felony offenses. But if those charges are incurred in one incident, all three could be included on the expungement request.
The process to apply for expungement requires applicants to get a certificate of eligibility. This is done through the conjunction of the Kentucky State Police and Administrative Office of the Courts. A criminal check is conducted by both offices and once approved, the Kentucky State Police will certify the eligibility of the expungement request.
Those interested in the expungement process can apply online or in person at the Administrative Office of the Courts in Frankfort. A $40 fee for the expungement request form is required at that time. Applicants will receive a packet. The process for expungement is usually 60 days and can only be expunged by a judge. Persons who obtain the certificate can then file a petition for expungement with the Office of the Circuit Court Clerk in the county where the offense was originally filed.
Once that has been completed, the Commonwealth's Attorney in that particular county has 60 days to file a response to the request and has the option to support or oppose the request.
Lay said the judge then sets the issue on a court docket for a hearing.
If the expungement is granted, the applicant must pay a $500 fee to the courts.
Lay said he was surprised by the response to the expungement process.
"i thought we would be bombarded with applications," he said. "But we've only had 10 or so in Laurel County and only a couple in Knox County."
However, all those cases were expunged, he said, except for one.
"That person had everything in ordere and was in compliance," Lay said. "But the charge itself wasn't eligible."
Part of that low response could be due to the new ruling that those applying for state jobs no longer have to report if they are a convicted felon or not - and a section that automatically excluded many people from securing jobs with the state government.
Lay said the expungement was especially beneficial to persons who, for example, had flagrant child support cases, which is a felony and has resulted in many persons being denied good job opportunities.
"If a person really wants to expunge their record, this law is a benefit," he said. "This is not for repeat offenders. It is for that individual who made that one mistake and wants to start over."