New TN law could expunge some criminals' pasts - WSMV News 4

New TN law could expunge some criminals' pasts

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While many believe a criminal record lasts a lifetime, that's not the case in Tennessee. In fact, a new law will allow certain felonies to be erased forever.

The expungement law is designed to give motivated people a second chance, but some employers worry they won't be getting the whole truth about a potential new hire.

It can be tough to get a new job in today's economy, especially when the applicant has a history as an auto burglar or thief.

Defense attorney Jim Todd said expungement goes way beyond dismissal of the charges. It's like what happened never happened.

"People make mistakes," Todd said. "Expungement means that you return to status that you were before it happened, which means if you are asked under oath if you have ever been convicted of a crime, the answer is 'no.' If you are asked on an application if you have ever been convicted of a crime, the answer is 'no.' So this gives a lot of people a much-needed second chance, especially considering the economy."

A long list of Class E felonies, including theft, forgery, fraud, auto burglary, vandalism, evading arrest and certain drug crimes are eligible for expungement under the new law with a couple of key conditions.

Anyone hoping for expungement must have committed the crime at least five years ago and have no other criminal record since. Also, the felon must pay $350 and appear in front of a judge.

Victims' rights activist Verna Wyatt said she can see both sides of the issue.

"Any of these crimes, an employer is going to say, 'I think I'm going to pass.' So I can see why they are going to think this is not a good thing," Wyatt said. "But on the other hand, the people who are coming back into our communities that need a job and are willing to change - what happens if we don't give them an opportunity? We are going to have more victims, for sure."

So there's now a magic eraser that restores voting rights, gun rights and maybe even gives some people a chance to get back to an honest lifestyle.

The law goes into effect July 1.

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