Thousands of West Virginians with qualifying nonviolent felony convictions, and many people with misdemeanor convictions, can now petition the court to have their criminal record permanently expunged.

Senate Bill 152, which was passed during the regular legislative session, went into effect Friday. 

"This new law has the potential to remove barriers to employment for people whose job applications are often summarily denied due to having a criminal conviction on their record," according to a release from Legal Aid of West Virginia.

Employers who previously could not hire people who are otherwise qualified will have a bigger pool of potential employees, Legal Aid said.

“I am very pleased that both bodies of government have improved the previous law that was passed in 2017," Sen. Glen Jeffries, D-Putnam, the lead sponsor of the bill, said in the release. "This is one step in giving individuals a second chance whether with a misdemeanor or a nonviolent felony charge."

Jeffries said there are still safeguards in place and charges that are not eligible for expungement.

"I believe this is the right step to help create better job opportunities and help our workforce participation in West Virginia.”

Most nonviolent felonies qualify for expungement petition, and for misdemeanor expungement, it no longer matters how old you were when convicted. The waiting period after being out of prison and off parole is five years for nonviolent felonies, and one to two years for misdemeanors. 

The release said petitioners can file using an attorney or by themselves as a pro se litigant. 

Legal Aid of West Virginia, American Friends Service Committee, American Civil Liberties Union of WV, Mountain State Justice, Kanawha County Public Defender Office, and statewide Re-Entry Councils are collaborating on efforts to educate petitioners, lawyers, and judges about the new law. Free legal clinics are also being planned.

Expungement forms will soon be available on the WV Supreme Court’s website, courtswv.gov

For more information, visit atlawv.net

— Email: wholdren@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @WendyHoldren

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