Under a bill headed for the Oregon State Senate, criminals convicted of nonviolent Class B felonies more than twenty years ago could apply to have their records expunged. Already wielding support from the Oregon District Attorney’s Association and from judges and former police officers, in April the bill received a unanimous 58-0 approval in the House.
Opponents to the proposed law feel it would enable those found guilty of “white collar” felonies, including bribery and embezzlement, to repeat their previous crimes without fear of lasting penalties. They worry that expungement, or wiping criminal records clean, might actually encourage such criminals to repeat their previous transgressions.
Class B felonies commonly include drug-related offenses and other serious but non-violent crimes. Those convicted, especially on drug-related charges, often face permanent obstacles in obtaining jobs, housing, and other basic privileges. Many who support the new expungement bill have lived clean for decades.
Circling the bill’s debate is discussion of the larger issues surrounding Oregon’s expungement guidelines, which critics say is often bewildering and inconsistent. Some individuals worry that state guidelines for expunging Class C felonies fail to appropriately balance the seriousness of the crime with the time needed before expungement. Some Class C felonies – including not only drug-related offenses, but also burglary and car theft – can be purged after three years.