Kentucky Supreme Court orders expungement fees waived

Court ruled low-income people should not have to pay fees to have old felony convictions cleared

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled Thursday that low-income people should not have to pay fees to have old felony convictions cleared from their backgrounds.

The case was brought by Frederick Jones of Jefferson County. He had asked to have a felony theft conviction from 1998 expunged from court records, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader. The state previously charged $340 in various fees.

“We can identify no other situation in our commonwealth where a judge renders a judgment that a litigant is entitled to a benefit under the law, but that litigant cannot obtain the benefit of that judgment unless and until he pays a fee,” Justice Michelle Keller of Covington wrote for the unanimous court decision.

According to WDRB-TV, the ruling means that low-income people who were convicted of traffic, misdemeanor and some non-violent felony cases can have those records erased without paying a $50 filing fee, a $40 certificate of eligibility fee and $250 expungement cost.

“It’s extremely important,” Jones’ attorney Michael Abate argued before the high court. “There are hundreds of thousands of people in this state who have been disenfranchised by a felony conviction.”

Abate argued that having old criminal convictions expunged could help hundreds of state residents with getting jobs, and would allow them to vote and also participate in their kids’ school activities, along with other benefits.

Jones’ case will now be sent back to Jefferson Circuit Court for expungement, WDRB-TV reported.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron argued in court that expungement of a case was not a constitutional right and fees were required under state law.

According to WDRB-TV, legislators have proposed waiving the fees in past years as old convictions and even unproven charges can still show up on employer background checks. All of these proposals have fallen flat.

“We recognize the hardship our holding may place on the agencies who benefit from the expungement fee,” Justice Keller wrote. “However, we cannot allow that potential hardship to color our analysis of the statutes at issue. We merely interpret the statutes as enacted by the General Assembly.”

A conviction is eligible to be expunged five years after any jail or probation sentence is served or restitution is paid. People are not allowed to expunge multiple felony cases.

Once a case is expunged, all records are sealed and no longer accessible by the public or government officials. If asked about an expunged case, court clerks are required to say it doesn’t exist.

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