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Senate amends, passes expungement bill

SANTA FE – Legislation that would allow New Mexicans to seek court approval to wipe an arrest or conviction from their records cleared the state Senate on Wednesday and how heads back to the House.

The proposal, House Bill 370, passed 28-13.

It would allow expungement of criminal records in certain circumstances.

For instance, individuals convicted of murder, sexual offenses or crimes involving a child would not be able to petition a judge to have their records expunged.

In addition, those eligible for having their records removed from public view would still have to wait for a set time period after being convicted of a crime before going to the court – with the time period depending on the seriousness of the crime.

“You have to pay your debt to society, and then we can talk about expungement,” said Sen. Bill O’Neill, D-Albuquerque, who sponsored the bill in the Senate.

He also said prosecutors and police would still have access to the records.

But critics expressed concern that some first-degree felonies – including kidnapping – could be eligible for expungement under the legislation.

“I think that’s going too far,” said Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho.

Some previous expungement measures would not have allowed individuals convicted of felony charges to seek to have their records wiped clean, including one that was vetoed in 2012 by former Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican.

The legislation approved Wednesday has already been passed by the House, but senators amended the legislation, so it will go back to the House for further review.

State lawmakers on Wednesday also agreed to send to the governor a pair of bills aimed at overhauling parts of New Mexico’s criminal justice system.

The bipartisan proposals, House Bills 342 and 564, would allow for an expansion of a pre-prosecution diversion program for nonviolent offenders – aimed at unclogging the court system – and revise the probation and parole system, among other changes.

The House agreed to changes made by the Senate on both bills, allowing them to move on to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk for final approval.

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