Louisiana Expungement Law Revised: A Good “First Step” for Thousands of Residents with Louisiana Criminal Records

October 31, 2015 | Category: Articles

Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate of any state in the country—which, some would argue, makes it among the highest in the world (see Cindy Chang’s piece in the Times-Picayune, “Louisiana Is the World's Prison Capital.”)    A recent U. S. Department of Justice study revealed that, even with last year’s 2% decline in incarceration rates, Louisiana remains far-and-away the state leader in per capita prison population.  At around 847 people per 100,000, Louisiana had not only the highest incarceration rate in 2013, but is one of only five states that had an imprisonment rate of more than 600 people per 100,000 residents. Mississippi has the next highest state incarceration rate to Louisiana, at a distant 692 people per 100,000 residents.

Recognizing that such a high population of residents with Louisiana criminal records poses serious economic hardships on its workforce and disincentives major industries from relocating to the state, the legislature has completely overhauled the fragmented Louisiana expungement laws.  Before this revision, though most misdemeanors were eligible for expungement, felony arrest records were generally not.  Until now.

The Legislative Findings that preface the new Louisiana Expungement Law (which can be found in Title XXXIV of the Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure, Articles 971 through 995), conclude that:

The inability to obtain an expungement can prevent certain individuals from obtaining gainful employment.  It is the intention of the legislature that this Title will provide opportunities to break the cycle of criminal recidivism, increase public safety, and assist the growing population of criminal offenders reentering the community to establish a self-sustaining life through opportunities in employment. 

Whether the new rules for expungement of criminal records in Louisiana actually accomplish that lofty goal is still a matter of debate, but, doubtless, there has been progress.  Here are some of the highlights of the new Louisiana Expungement Law.

  1. Under the new law, expungement of a Louisiana criminal record is mandatory if a person meets all of the eligibility requirements and requests expungement. This means that many expungements may be granted without a hearing. A hearing must be held only if the prosecutor or law enforcement objects to the expungement request on grounds of ineligibility.  That can significantly reduce the time and legal expense for obtaining an expungement.
  1. A Louisiana arrest record may also be purged of the arrest if the person was convicted of a crime different from that for which he was arrested. This, too, is mandatory, if the arrested person requests it.  While that may not seem like a big concession, the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of cases—as many as 95%, according to some studies—end with a plea bargain, often to a lesser charge.  So, for example, in a case where someone is arrested for felony Aggravated Battery but later pleads guilty to misdemeanor Simple Battery, the immediate removal of the felony arrest record can have significant benefits.
  1. Expungement of a felony conviction record in Louisiana allows a person to pass a background check in most cases because it removes any obligation to disclose the criminal record, or that the record was expunged. The law explicitly allows a person to answer “no” to an employment application question asking if he has ever been convicted of a felony (if that felony has been expunged).
  1. A felony record may not be expunged until ten years after completion of sentence, and a misdemeanor record may not be expunged until five years have passed after completion of sentence. An expungement may take place only once every fifteen years.
  1. However, any arrest for which there has not been a conviction may be expunged, and there is no limit to the number of times that can occur, nor a waiting period for it.
  1. Waiting periods aside, most people can clean their Louisiana records because, under Louisiana’s expungement law, the only felonies that cannot be expunged are those for violent offenses, sex offenses, crimes against minors, and drug trafficking offenses.