Lee Davis: Tennessee’s New Expungement Statute Goes Into Effect July 1

Friday, May 25, 2012 - by Lee Davis
Lee Davis
Lee Davis

Criminal Procedure - As enacted, this law authorizes persons to petition for expungement of records of conviction for certain non-violent, non-sexual misdemeanors and Class E felonies 

A record of a criminal conviction can have wide-ranging consequences from difficulty securing employment to the loss of the right to vote or own a firearm.  When a conviction is expunged, the record of the conviction is no longer available to the public, and the person receiving the expungement may deny involvement in the underlying offense.   

Currently, under Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-32-101, a person can petition the court for expungement of public records involving a criminal offense, but the record will be expunged only if the charge was dismissed, no true bill was returned by the grand jury, or the person was arrested and released without being charged.  Pursuant to an amendment to this statute that will go into effect on July 1, a person may petition the court for expungement of an actual conviction.   

The person seeking the expungement must meet certain requirements, and not all offenses are eligible.  A person may not seek expungement if she has been convicted of any other offense at any time.  In addition, at least five years must have elapsed since the person seeking expungement fulfilled the requirements of her sentence.  Finally, the conviction is not eligible for expungement if the sentence imposed was a term of more than three years imprisonment.  

The amendment sets out separate but similar standards for convictions based on offenses committed before and after November 1, 1989.  For post-1989 offenses, there is a list of eligible Class E felonies, including but not limited to theft; fraudulent use of a credit or debit card; worthless checks; car burglary; vandalism; and some drug offenses.  

Misdemeanors are also eligible for expungement subject to a long list of exceptions.  Offenses related to domestic violence are, notably, not eligible, including domestic assault, violation of a protective order, and possession of a firearm while a protective order is in effect.  Also excluded are a variety of offenses that involve minor victims, including child abuse, neglect, or endangerment.  Finally, a conviction for driving under the influence of an intoxicant is also not eligible for expungement.  

Generally, convictions committed before November 1, 1989, are eligible.  Exceptions exist, however, for inerently dangerous offenses or those that require registration as a sex offender, involve intoxicants and a motor vehicle, involve the sale or distribution of some classes of drugs, or that result in serious bodily injury, harm to a minor, or damages in excess of $25,000.   

The legislature has directed the district attorneys general conference to create a simple form that lay people can use to petition for expungement.  A $350 filing fee is also required.  If the petition is granted, the conviction is deemed to have never occurred, and a copy of the expungement “shall be sufficient proof that the person named in the order is no longer under any disability, disqualification or other adverse consequence resulting from the expunged conviction.”  If the petition is denied, the petitioner may file again after two years.  

(Lee Davis is a Chattanooga attorney who can be reached at lee@davis-hoss.com or at 266-0605.)

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