New rules now allow expungement of some criminal offenses

Until recently, it was impossible to have an Iowa criminal conviction expunged from a criminal history record – but as of July 1, the criminal court record of some categories of Iowa misdemeanor convictions can be expunged under newly enacted Iowa Code section 901C.3, if all of the following conditions are met:

- More than eight years have passed since the conviction was entered.

- All sanctions, restitution, court costs, fines and fees associated with the conviction have been satisfied in full.

- The person seeking the expungement has no pending criminal charges and has not previously been granted two deferred judgments.

- The criminal conviction is not for one of the criminal offenses that 901C.3 specifically exempts from eligibility for expungement.

- The person seeking the expungement has not previously been granted an expungement under 901C.3.

That last condition means that you can only get one misdemeanor criminal case record expunged under 901C.3 in a lifetime – but if you pleaded guilty to two or more (eligible) misdemeanor offenses in a criminal case, all of the convictions entered in that case will be expunged.

However, if you pleaded guilty to two or more criminal offenses in one court case and one of the offenses is not eligible to be expunged (see below), or one of the convictions is a felony, then probably none of the misdemeanor convictions entered in that case can be expunged.

It is important to note that convictions for many categories of misdemeanor offenses are not eligible for expungement under 901C.3. For example, misdemeanor convictions for any level of Operating while Intoxicated, Domestic Abuse Assault, and/or Interference with Official Acts cannot be expunged under 901C.3, nor can any misdemeanor sex offense convictions. But most theft convictions, assault convictions, and (misdemeanor level) possession of a controlled substance convictions can be expunged under the new law, along with a lot of other misdemeanor convictions.

What’s a little troubling is that under new code section 901C.3 a person has a right to have an eligible misdemeanor conviction expunged once at least eight years have passed even if the person has subsequently been convicted of multiple other criminal offenses. For example, a person who was convicted of an aggravated misdemeanor theft offense nine years ago has the right to have that theft conviction expunged under the new law, even if she has since been convicted of other theft offenses and even if she is currently on probation for a felony level theft offense. That doesn’t seem consistent with the stated goal of the legislation, which is to allow people who have proven that they can conduct themselves as law-abiding citizens to move on with their lives without a criminal record.

I suggested an amendment to the legislation creating the new law that would have shortened the waiting period to five years and would have allowed more than one misdemeanor expungement in a lifetime – but only if the person seeking to have the conviction expunged had not been convicted of any new criminal offenses since the original conviction. This makes more sense to me than what was passed, but the majority party preferred their language, so that’s the language we ended up with.

And I do support “what we ended up with” – i.e., new code section 901C.3 – even with its flaws, because I know that a conviction for a low-level theft or assault offense can discourage an employer from hiring a qualified job applicant even if decades have passed since the conviction was entered, and I know that this new law will give a lot of essentially law-abiding people who were convicted of a relatively minor offense more than eight years ago the opportunity to be judged on their merits and their accomplishments, as opposed to on their criminal record – although (for better or worse) a lot of essentially non-law abiding people will also be able to take advantage of the new law. Oh well.

Now I’m sure many people (or at least some people) are thinking “Hey, I have an old misdemeanor conviction floating around that I’d like to get rid of ... how can I make that happen?” At some point in the hopefully not-too-distant future the Iowa judicial branch will likely come up with a “fill in the blank” petition to expunge that people can fill out and file for themselves – but unless and until that form is available, you’ll most likely have to hire an attorney to handle the expungement process for you (unless you can figure out how to do it yourself, in which case more power to you!).

Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, is a member of the Iowa House of Representatives.