The State Legislature is in session and a proposed bill may make substantial changes to how courts impose and collect financial penalties (i.e. legal financial obligations) from those convicted of crimes. These changes could impact the rules for vacating criminal convictions.
First, it is important to define the various forms of legal financial obligations (LFO's). One category is the fines, costs, and assessments that a court may impose following conviction. A second category is restitution; money paid to a victim of a crime to make them financially whole as a result of a criminal act.
House Bill 1412 proposes to make the following changes:
- A court can waive any non-restitution LFO, at any time, where the defendant lacks the ability to pay. This is tied to whether the defendant is indigent.
- A court can compel payment for LFO's for a ten year time period.
- A court can extend this time period for ten more years only if the court finds the defendant has the ability to pay. Again, this is tied to indigency.
- A court can convert unpaid non-restitution LFO's to community service. Again, this is tied to indigency.
- Specific to restitution, a court can strike restitution, at any time, if it is owed to a state agency or insurer that is not a person, and the defendant does not have the ability to pay. Again, this is tied to indigency.
- These changes would be retroactive to prior cases.
This bill is currently being debated in the House Civil Rights and Judiciary Committee. If the bill passes the committee, it could be sent to the full House, and Senate, for votes.
How does this impact vacating convictions? For many people, the inability to pay LFO's is a permanent barrier to clearing old conviction records. This is especially true when restitution is owed. Under current law, for cases that occurred before 2000, courts generally have ten years of jurisdiction to compel payment of LFO's, and can extend this jurisdiction an additional ten years. This means that for these pre-2000 cases, the LFO's can be essentially waived due to the passage of time. But for cases that occurred after 2000, courts have perpetual jurisdiction to compel payment of all LFO's. This makes un-paid LFO's for post-2000 cases a permanent barrier. The proposed bill provides a lifeline to persons struggling to pay LFO's to get these formally waived. Once waived, these persons have a path to vacate the conviction records.
This proposed bill, if it becomes law, would go into effect later this year. If you have questions about your eligibility to vacate a conviction record, please contact Robertson Law. We can review your case and determine what steps need to be taken. We are ready and happy to help.