West Virginia Senate Bill Gives Non-Violent Felons ‘Second Chance’

WHEELING — Criminals convicted of certain non-violent felonies could get the opportunity for a “second chance” and a clean record under a bill moving in the West Virginia Senate.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday advanced Senate Bill 76, which would expand eligibility for criminal expungement to persons convicted of certain non-violent felonies.

Under the measure, any person convicted of a non-violent felony offense could petition the circuit court for expungement of the past conviction.

The felon would be eligible for expungement one year after release from incarceration or completion of any period of supervision — whichever comes latest — and they would not be eligible for permanent expungement until five years after an order is entered granting the expungement.

Supporters say the opportunity could help felons who have served time find work more easily and become a productive member of society.

Those committing crimes involving violence would not be eligible for expungement under the proposed law. Felons also would be ineligible if their victim is a minor, or if their crimes involve a “firearm, deadly weapon or dangerous instrument,” or if the felon was convicted of possession of a controlled substance with the intent to sell or deliver to a minor.

Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, vice chairman of the Judiciary Committee, introduced three amendments to the bill Monday that were approved by the committee. Weld also serves as assistant prosecutor in Brooke County.

Weld’s first amendment added the charge of soliciting minors for sex by computer to the list of crimes that wouldn’t be eligible for expungement. His second would prohibit expungement for those pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit the crimes on the non-expungement list, while the third would state that expunged felons are not eligible to receive their pension if the crime they committed was against their employer.

Weld said he believes the measure is a good idea, and that legislators were “very careful” to make certain those with violent records cannot have those records cleared under the law.

“The aim of the bill is to give individuals who maybe got caught up in writing bad checks because they had a drug addiction — or many who were swept up in something else when they were younger — a second chance,” Weld said after the meeting. “Now maybe in their middle or late 20s, they are now having a difficult time finding a job because of the non-violent felony on their record.”

There is a substance abuse problem in West Virginia, and this means many people have the potential to be barred from employment because of a felony conviction, according to Weld.

“If they are now getting sober, they should be given an opportunity for a second chance,” he said. “This goes in part with what I’ve been trying to do in the Legislature — all we can to combat substance abuse. If people are able to get clean and have a life after addiction, that’s an important part of the process.”

Sen. Robert Beach, D-Monongalia, spoke in favor of the measure before the Judiciary Committee.

“It’s a rarity that we have such a compassionate bill that addresses needs in communities both urban and rural,” he said. “In the past, I shied away from such legislation because you couldn’t defend it in the communities.”

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