Some felons could get 'second chance' under new bill

The premise of the legal system in West Virginia is that you are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Too often, those accused of a crime are convicted in the arena of public opinion before they ever get to trial. If you are the defendant and convicted, the stigma of having a record can remain for a lifetime. Work, homes, families can all be jeopardized.

That is particularly true if the crime alleged is a felony. If someone is accused of a misdemeanor, most observers might acknowledge that, but for some lucky break, it could be them facing charges. No matter what the level of charge, the negative repercussions are such that help should be sought from an experienced attorney.

Legislative action taking place in Wheeling indicates some lawmakers recognize how debilitating a criminal record can be. A so-called "second chance" bill is working its way through the Senate. The Judiciary Committee moved the measure forward in a vote earlier this week.

The bill would make it possible for someone convicted of certain non-violent felonies to seek expungement of the record. Proponents say the measure addresses the state's growing substance abuse problem. Their view is that drug addiction leads many to make bad choices they wouldn't make otherwise. They say if the resulting crime is non-violent in nature, then a felon trying to go straight could benefit.

As that last statement suggests, the bill doesn't represent an open door for leniency. A felon would only become eligible to seek an expungement order one year after completing any term of incarceration or supervision under their sentence. Five years after the order is issued, a request for permanent expungement would be possible.

Perhaps this bill will be enacted. In the meantime, anyone facing charges needs to do their utmost to protect their rights. The best possible outcome is most likely by working with an experienced attorney.

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