In Oregon, certain criminal convictions can be expunged (set aside and sealed) after a period of time. The rule is that a person must be free from criminal convictions for ten years preceding the filing of the motion, not counting the offense one is trying to remove from a criminal record. This is an important process. Felony and misdemeanor convictions can have a devastating impact on finding employment and housing. Being able to clear one’s record after a period of law abiding behavior is important.
As a Portland expungement lawyer, I have encountered problems for clients that have been found in contempt of court. Some counties treat a contempt conviction as a disqualifying crime for expungement purposes and some do not. The mixed results between counties has been frustrating for my clients and everyone else trying to navigate the expungement process. This process is expensive and the costs (for filing fees and a background check fee) amount to $320.00. This is not an amount of money most people want to spend on an uncertain result.
For many years, I have argued that contempt itself is not an “offense” because it is neither a felony nor a misdemeanor. The results have been mixed. Recently, I had a client who wanted to appeal an adverse decision on this “contempt as an offense” issue.
On October 9, 2013, the Court of Appeals issued its decision in State v. Coughlin. In that case, a client had been found in contempt for violation of a restraining order within the ten years of applying for an expungement. The Trial Court determined that contempt was a disqualifying offense under the expungement statute. We appealed. The Court of Appeals agreed that contempt is not an “offense” or a “crime.” The Court noted that in virtually all of its previous decisions characterizing the nature of a contempt conviction it had found that contempt was not a crime. The Court of Appeals held that a contempt conviction does not, by itself, bar a person from an expungement. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case to the Trial Court for reconsideration.
After 35 years of being an Oregon expungement lawyer, it is good to see that the issue has been settled. Now people can file for expungement with a degree of certainty that they will not be denied on the basis of a contempt conviction. The patchwork of counties with different views of the issue are now settled.
By James F. O’Rourke Jr.
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