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SALT LAKE CITY — A libertarian-leaning group wants Utah lawmakers to waive fees for those who want to have their criminal records scrubbed but can't afford the administrative costs.
Building on expungement reforms in recent years, the Libertas Institute is urging Utah leaders to consider an additional series of moves to make the process easier and less costly for more people, especially if they meet certain benchmarks.
"There's a lot of hidden court fees," Molly Davis, a policy analyst with the think tank, said Wednesday. In all, it can cost upward of $200 in fees for those who are eligible to have their records cleared, she noted.
Davis pitched several ideas to the Utah Sentencing Commission, a panel of judges and others that met Tuesday at the Utah Capitol, including:
- Waiving fees for those a court declares indigent, meaning they can't afford an attorney.
- Free expungement for those acquitted in criminal cases.
- Early expungement for low-level drug offenders if they remain sober for a period of time imposed by a judge.
- Making private court records of those who have paid fees and abided court orders but have not gotten to the final step in the expungement process.
The commission does not make laws, but Davis said her group wanted to hear its thoughts ahead of the 2019 legislative session.
Defense attorney Richard Mauro, a member of the panel, noted private companies track the data and questioned whether Libertas was focusing its efforts there; Davis said the group for now is homing in on the public records.
If Utah were to apply and win a grant to host more expungement sessions that make attorneys and judges available to help people navigate the paperwork, the outside money may help offset administrative costs absorbed by the state's courts and Bureau of Criminal Identification, said Kim Cordova, executive director of the Commission on Criminal & Juvenile Justice.
No draft legislation has been released. Davis said her group is working with lawmakers to craft proposals ahead of the 2019 Legislature, which convenes in January.
A 2018 law that took effect in May allows a person's record to be scrubbed even if they have outstanding payments for unrelated infractions or traffic offenses. It also allows expungement for cases dismissed in their entirety six months after they are resolved, so long as a prosecutor gives written approval.