CHEYENNE — When someone commits a crime as a minor, there is often a fear that their criminal record could follow them into adulthood, impacting job prospects or an opportunity to serve their country.
In Wyoming, former juvenile offenders can file an appeal with a judge to have their record expunged. However, not everyone does that, or may not be able to, having moved out of the jurisdiction.
A bill passed out of the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday morning could help to address this situation. It proposes making a judicial review of a juvenile’s criminal record for expungement an automatic part of the process once that offender reaches adulthood.
The bill is one of four proposals contained in a suite of criminal justice reform proposals up for debate in this year’s session.
If passed, the bill would cover charges filed in Children in Need of Supervision (CHINS) proceeding, along with municipal and circuit courts. To qualify, a juvenile can’t be facing pending felonies, and must be rehabilitated under a diversion program to the standard of the court.
When the appeal is filed, a copy is also given to the prosecuting attorney for the case, who has 20 days to respond. If a prosecutor responds with an objection, the matter goes to a hearing before a judge. The judge in the district that the case was initially adjudicated can then determine whether or not to expunge the records.
Though this petition process has always been available, this bill would give the state the option to proceed with the expungement process without the knowledge of the person with the record, who may have moved out of the area of jurisdiction and might no longer be living in the area.
There are some exemptions to the rule, however. The bill would not cover the backup records maintained by the Wyoming Supreme Court in databases housed in servers in Arizona and Virginia (which are not publicly accessible and would be available for internal use for a period of 10 years in order to allow various agencies to comply with federal reporting requirements).
Though the bill was generally well-received – it passed out of the House Judiciary Committee by unanimous consent – Rep. Art Washut, a Casper Republican who works as a criminal justice instructor, expressed some concern that the application of the process might not be applied consistently from county to county. Rep. Charles Pelkey, D-Laramie, said that he understood that concern, but added that lawmakers, in a similar bill last year, wanted to maintain local control in these decisions.