The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Budget would clear the slate for some criminals

  • Crimes committed by persons under 25 could be expunged, under a proposal in Gov. Doyle's 2009-'11 budget.
  • Currently crimes can only be expunged if the offender is under 21 at the time of the crime, and the penalty is a year or less in jail.
  • The measure is trying to combat employee discrimination.
  • A better way to combat discrimination is by enforcing existing laws, rather than hiding information, said a freedom of information official.

Nonviolent crimes committed by those younger than 25 could now be expunged under a proposal in Gov. Jim Doyle's budget.

As the law stands now, cases can only be cleared from an offender's record if he or she is under 21 at the time of the crime. Potential cases are also limited to misdemeanor offenses, meaning the sentences carry a year or less in jail.

A week ago, the Wisconsin Legislature's Joint Committee on Finance voted 9-6 in favor of the measure.

Employment discrimination is part of the measure's goal, said Lee Sensenbrenner, a spokesman for Doyle.

"The intent is to give people a chance to move past a mistake and not have something like that on their record holding them back from a constructive life," Sensenbrenner said. "We want to give them an opportunity to move forward with a clean slate."

Sensenbrenner said the governor believes youthful offenders should have some opportunity to get a clean start.

"A lot of crimes you see committed by people that age are different than what you see from others and they should be able to move on and get that off their records," Sensenbrenner said.

Under the proposal, the age limit would be changed from 21 to 25, and the eligible crimes would include those that carry a penalty of up to six years in jail, according to the legislation. Violent crimes – like child abuse or domestic assault – are excluded and not eligible for expungement.

There were 1,487 cases expunged in 2007 and 1,672 cases expunged in 2008, according to a memo issued by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

State Representative Robin Vos (R-Racine) opposes the policy change. He said it is difficult to imagine the public supporting such a drastic change.

"It's going to affect a whole lot of people the first time somebody doesn't know that their neighbor committed some of these crimes that we're going to allow them to cover up," Vos said. "Multiple offenses — multiple serious offenses — I just can't see how the public will ever support that."

Vos said giving first-time offenders a second chance is fine, but cautioned against going too far.

"If the idea is to say that we're willing to wipe away dozens of offenses, I'd rather err on the side of letting the public know," he said.

Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, said a better way to combat employment discrimination would be to enforce existing laws, rather than hiding information from prospective employers.

"The whole premise that there's nothing the state of Wisconsin can do to prevent employment discrimination except prevent the information from being out there — that's obnoxious," he said. "Why not try enforcing that law rather than removing information?"

Lueders also said he would have rather seen this issue played out in a public forum, rather than buried in the state budget.

Tom Sheehan, a spokesman for the state courts office, said the change did not come at their request.

"It's a decision best left to the legislature," he said.

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