New expungement law levels the playing field for juvenile offenders
By Cynthia Roldan, The Post and Courier
COLUMBIA — Before lawmakers wrapped up an extended legislative session this year, they passed a law with little fanfare that aims to give adults who committed nonviolent crimes as minors a second chance.
Drowned out by the end-of-session chaos, the Legislature approved a bill Gov. Nikki Haley signed into law June 1 that allows for adults to request in writing to have a nonviolent offense they committed as minors permanently erased from their record.
Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, said he introduced the law because previously having nonviolent crimes erased from a juvenile record was a relatively expensive process that required the involvement of an attorney. And he found that children of affluent families were benefiting from the expungement process, but others could not afford it.
“The whole idea behind this was, if you’re going to have the expungements as a remedy out there, there ought not to be financial barriers to it,” Davis said. “It’s something that you recognize that under existing law that certain people are shut out from the relief simply because of the cost component. And that’s not fair.”
With the new law, young adults just have to fill out a form for their local solicitor’s office requesting to have their offense erased — as long as they don’t have other charges pending.
Co-sponsor Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, stressed it was important for adults to take advantage of it. Minor crimes, even those committed as juveniles, can often hamper the progress of an adult trying to have a productive life. “Whether we like it or not, there is a stigma attached to people with criminal records,” Kimpson said. “And who better to give a second chance to than young men and women who are reaching the age of maturity. This will help our children become productive citizens.”
Laura Hudson, a victims advocate, said she would’ve preferred if the law simply sealed the record solely to law enforcement instead of throwing it out. Offenders are often convicted of lesser crimes than those they were charged with as part of a plea bargain. And a record could be vital to a case in the future, if the teen reoffends as an adult.
“I think that wiping the record out entirely is counterproductive,” Hudson said. “The issues to crime victims are public safety, public safety and public safety.”
Davis and Kimpson said they understood the concerns of victims advocates. But with an increased number of law enforcement in schools, kids now are often charged with crimes that a decade ago would’ve been solved with a disciplinary measure, Kimpson said. And that could keep them from going into the military or receiving financial aid for college.
“It’s important to realize just how debilitating having a juvenile offense is,” Davis said. “It really limits your opportunities going forward.”