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Expungement Reform Continues to Gain Legislative Support in Wisconsin

Posted on in Criminal Defense

After receiving overwhelming support from both Republicans and Democrats, Wisconsin lawmakers have continued to push for legislation that would allow more people to seek expungement. The bill is called the “Pathways to Employment,” a title that illustrates the purpose behind the proposed law: to help former non-violent offenders transition from prison into the workforce. The Pathways to Employment bill is designed to provide persons convicted of lower-level crimes with a second chance at life and also seeks to reduce Wisconsin’s labor shortage.

Expungement involves a person petitioning to have his or her criminal convictions expunged, or cleared from the public court record. Because a criminal record can hinder a person’s ability to secure housing, employment, financial aid, and other opportunities that require a background check, this new expungement law truly provides people with a second chance. Since the Pathways to Employment bill passed at the committee level with bipartisan support in both chambers, supporters believe that this bill will soon become law. A full vote to determine whether this expungement bill will become law is scheduled to take place in May. 

Who Would Qualify for Expungement Under the New Law?

The proposed Pathways to Employment expungement law will apply to non-violent, lower-level offenders charged with Class H felonies and below. Under current Wisconsin law, only defendants under the age of 25 can receive an expungement and in addition, the expungement must be ordered at the time of sentencing. Critics of the current expungement system complain that Wisconsin’s expungement laws are “illogical.” Critics explain that under current law, a judge is prohibited from addressing expungement post-sentence, a time when an offender’s rehabilitation is more apparent. Today, many Wisconsin residents are missing out on valuable employment opportunities because they have a non-violent criminal conviction hanging over their head.  

In light of these deficiencies, legislators have proposed a new law that would eliminate the age limit for expungements and allow a judge to grant expungement after a defendant completes his or her sentence. By eliminating the age limitation and permitting expungement post-sentencing, the Pathways to Employment expands Wisconsin law to benefit more people. The public also supports the proposed expungement law. A recent Marquette Law School poll reported that 65 percent of respondents believe that offenders convicted of low level, non-violent crimes should be able to seek expungement with a criminal court after serving their sentence.

Additional Reforms May Be Coming at the Federal Level

Currently, there appears to be a trend concerning the liberalization of post-conviction laws through criminal justice reform. While Wisconsin lawmakers are pushing for change at the state level, the federal government has also started to explore several prison reform initiatives. In fact, President Trump even declared that April 2019 was “Second Chance Month,” further illustrating that the federal government is prepared to address expungement.

Contact a Milwaukee, WI Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are interested in expungement for yourself or a loved one, you should seek the advice of a skilled Milwaukee expungement lawyer. Because expungement involves a technical area of the law and is undergoing significant changes, if you have questions or need legal advice regarding your expungement petition, contact our firm.  

The criminal defense attorneys at Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin & Brown, LLP will review your case and apply existing law to determine your options. We also stay abreast of all proposed changes to the law and can advise you on how these changes may affect your case. If you qualify for an expungement, there are numerous benefits that can result. Contact our firm today by calling 414-271-1440.



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