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Bills to seal first-time DUI offenses, other crimes introduced in North Dakota

Rep. Dennis Johnson, R-Devils Lake. Bismarck Tribune file photo

BISMARCK - Drunken driving offenders with a single offense may have their records sealed if they don’t have any convictions for criminal offenses in seven years under a bill introduced in the North Dakota Legislature.

Rep. Dennis Johnson, R-Devils Lake, introduced HB 1334 along with nine legislative co-sponsors including Sen. Terry Wanzek, R-Jamestown.

“If he keeps his record clean, when he gets out of college he can say he has not had a DUI on a job application,” Johnson said.

The bill may be amended to reduce the time before a DUI is sealed to five years.

Wanzek said the bill appealed to his compassionate side.

“Even if they made a mistake just once it is on their record forever,” he said, referring to the current law. “Even if they straighten their life out, it hinders many opportunities they may have in life.”

Johnson said the bill is meant for offenders who only have a DUI on their record.

“That makes sense to me,” Wanzek said. “If they are a habitual offender it doesn’t apply to them.”

Chad Kaiser, Stutsman County sheriff, said he understands the intent of the legislation.

“I’ve heard people are having a tough time getting housing and jobs even if they have a misdemeanor (on their record),” he said, “but if I run a criminal history on someone we’re looking to hire, I want to know everything.”

Sealing DUI records could have an impact on hiring practices at some trucking companies, according to Tonia Dreher, safety director at Hofmann Trucking at Jamestown.

“Alcohol violations are the worst,” she said.

Dreher said a DUI more than five years ago without any other criminal activity probably wouldn’t prevent a driver from being hired or insured.

“The insurance company looks at the whole history,” she said. “If there are a lot of speeding or other offenses it probably wouldn’t go through.”

Hofmann Trucking has a policy of looking at a 10-year criminal history for potential employees.

“We look at felonies within 10 years,” Dreher said. “I don’t believe we’ve hired anyone with a felony within 10 years.”

Another bill could potentially seal misdemeanors after three years and felonies after five years.

HB 1256 would allow someone convicted of any misdemeanor to apply to have his or her record sealed after three years. Anyone convicted of a felony could apply to have the record sealed after five years. HB 1256 requires the person seeking to have his or her criminal record sealed to not have been charged with any other crime since the initial conviction and allows the court to determine if sealing the record is appropriate.

Judges would be required to consider the nature and severity of the crime, risk the person poses to society, rehabilitation, mitigating factors in the crime and the person’s history in the community since the crime. There are no limits to what crimes can be considered for sealing with the decision left to the judge.

Recommendations from law enforcement officers, prosecutors and victims of the crime are all to be considered by the judge.

HB 1256 was heard by the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday, which took no action on the bill.

HB 1334 has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, but no hearing has been scheduled.

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