Covering Kentucky

May 5, 2013 4:35 PM

Jefferson County Seeks To Expunge More Cases

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Prosecutors in Jefferson County are seeking to expunge felony cases that have been dismissed.

Commonwealth's Attorney Tom Wine told The Courier-Journal (http://cjky.it/ZFwv7R) that his focus will be on older cases and "the presumption" will be to expunge if there's not a good reason to leave the charges open.

Prosecutors dismiss most felony cases in Louisville "without prejudice," which means the charges can be reinstated if new evidence is found.

However, Wine said many times that doesn't happen.

"The reality is, witnesses move on, evidence is lost. ... (And) "if we're not going to go forward with the case, then we need to allow these individuals to expunge these charges and go forward with their lives," he said.

If the cases aren't expunged, the arrest shows up in background checks and can make it difficult for a person to get a job.

Jefferson County Attorney Mike O'Connell said his office, which handles the majority of dismissed felony cases, will work with Wine to help expunge cases.

"Bottom line is, I think that is a sound policy in the interest of justice," O'Connell said.

The change is significant because prosecutors have generally objected when defendants asked to expunge such dismissed cases.

Jefferson County has thousands of felony cases that have been dismissed without prejudice. Some of them are decades old.

"It's going to fundamentally change people's lives," said Louisville defense attorney Benham Simms, who has for years fought for more cases to be expunged. "They will be able to volunteer at their children's schools. They will be able to secure employment knowing the charges will not show up on a background check. ... It's going to make a profound difference not only in their lives but ... in their family's lives as well."

Simms said the move also will "establish a blueprint for every other prosecutor's office" and for the state.

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Information from: The Courier-Journal, http://www.courier-journal.com

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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