Have you ever looked yourself up on Iowa Courts Online? Did you see records of yourself or other people you know that show up even though the person was found not guilty of the charge or the charge was dismissed? Many employers access Iowa Courts Online in determining who to hire, renters often check online court records when deciding whom to rent housing to, and other organizations also make decisions based upon a person’s criminal record. It can be very frustrating to be denied a job, position, house, or apartment because of a criminal conviction on your record, but it can be even more frustrating to be denied because an old charge shows up that you weren’t even convicted of. A new law that was just signed today aims to help fix that problem.
On May 1, 2015, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad signed Iowa Senate File 385 into law, which was unanimously passed by both chambers of the Iowa Legislature. The law allows individuals charged with a crime to have court records of the criminal charge and proceedings expunged or sealed if the charges are dismissed or resulted in a “not guilty” verdict.
In order to have the record of a charge expunged several things must first be established:
- All of the charges associated with the case must have been dismissed or the defendant must have been acquitted of all charges in the case.
- All court costs, fees, and other financial obligations owed by the person seeking the expungement must be paid in full.
- A minimum of 180 days must have passed since the entry of the judgment of acquittal or the order dismissing the case, unless the court finds good cause to waive that 180-day waiting period (i.e. the person was a victim of identity fraud or mistaken identity).
- The case was not dismissed due to the defendant being found not guilty by reason of insanity.
- The defendant was not found incompetent to stand trial in the case.
All parties to the case including the prosecutor have an opportunity to object to expunging the record if they believe that one of the above items was not satisfied. If all the above items are satisfied, the person qualifies to have their record expunged. The record would then become a confidential record exempt from public access and would be removed from Iowa Courts Online.
This law would allow the sealing of all public records for all crimes EXCEPT simple misdemeanor traffic offenses. The law is scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2016.
There are still some questions as to how the law will operate. For example, if a person is charged with an OWI and also a possession of drug paraphernalia that are filed under separate cases number but occurs out of the same incident, is the person able to get the paraphernalia charge expunged if they plead to the OWI and the paraphernalia charge is dismissed? That remains to be seen, but the language of the law would signal the answer to that question is yes.
In any event, the passage of this law is great news for anyone with a dismissed charge or not guilty verdict on their record because it will prevent access to those records by the public. That means that it will be much more difficult for employers, educational institutions, etc. to deny a job, scholarship, or admission to school because of a pesky record of a crime that a person wasn’t even convicted of.
A special thanks to the state senators, representatives, lobbyists and all those who pushed for passage of this bill that helps protect Iowans and promotes a fairer court system.
If you or someone you know has a charge on their record that you think may qualify for expungement, contact the attorneys at GRL Law for a free consultation today.