Mississippi lawmakers consider bill that would allow offenders to expunge multiple felonies

Published 6:03 am Friday, February 5, 2021

Mississippi lawmakers are considering a proposal that would give nonviolent offenders a chance to get more felony convictions wiped from their record.

House Bill 122 would allow people to expunge two felonies from their record after 10 years and expunge three felonies after 15 years.

The change would not apply to habitual offenders or anyone convicted of a violent crime. The time clock for eligibility would start only after a person has completed all terms and conditions of their sentence.

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Republican Rep. Jansen Owen of Poplarville, the bill’s sponsor, said Thursday that passing the legislation would show that Mississippians have “a forgiving spirit.”

“This targets those people who went through a span of their life where they made a lot of wrong decisions, somebody in their 20s who got a drug conviction at 22, 24, 27 and now they’re 50 and they go to church and they want a job and they want their kids to not see that they have this mark on them,” he said.

The legislation is similar to a bill vetoed last year by Republican Gov. Tate Reeves that would have allowed people to expunge three felonies after only five years. Reeves said then he felt the proposal was “well-intentioned” but “would threaten public safety.”

Owen said Thursday he hopes House Bill 122 addresses some of governor’s concerns by increasing the time a person must wait to clear their record of multiple convictions.

Right now, a person can get one felony expunged five years after completing all terms and conditions of their sentence.
Republican Rep. Bill Kinkade of Byhalia said he believes the current law is more than sufficient. He said the new proposal still goes too far.

“What you’re suggesting to us today is we’re going to look at expungement as a do-over, as you have multiple opportunities,” Kinkade said. “I don’t believe that was the idea behind expungement to start with.”

“Expungement is there for an individual to get his life back on track, for him to pay for his past sins,” he said. “What you’re saying is that we can commit a crime and then another one and have it expunged again and then expunged again.”

Owen said all decisions about expungement would be made at the discretion of a judge. The court can deny an offender’s petition if it is not convinced the person applying has been rehabilitated.

Democratic Rep. John Hines of Greenville said he supports the legislation, which could help curtail recidivism.

“People actually end up falling through the cracks because they can’t be gainfully employed because of these felonies being on their record,” he said.

The bill passed the House 80 to 39 on Thursday and will now move on to the Senate for more work.