For years, getting convictions expunged or sealed has been an option available for some individuals with criminal histories. Misdemeanor offenses, long-ago convictions, one-off crimes with no repeat offenses or other convictions to indicate a pattern of bad behavior: these types of criminal records are and have long been eligible for expungement. Over the past few years, though, as the ban the box and Fair Chance hiring movements have gained momentum across the nation, there has been another movement forming: one aimed at removing barriers that have previously rendered expungement inaccessible to many who are technically eligible.
These legislative efforts to make expungement easier—often referred to as “Clean Slate” laws—are continuing to move forward in 2021. So far this year, there has been legislative activity in Virginia, Arizona, and the city of Columbus, Ohio that could change the rules around record expungement and criminal record sealing in those areas. Read on for a brief overview of these legislative efforts.
Democrats in the Virginia State Legislature have been debating for more than a year about how to bring Clean Slate practices to the state. Just recently, those disagreements reached an apparent compromise, with House and Senate democrats presenting a unified front behind a bill that would automatically seal records of certain minor misdemeanor convictions.
The legislation outlines nine specific types of misdemeanors that would be eligible for automatic sealing, including possession of marijuana, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, underage possession of alcohol, use of a fake ID, trespassing, disorderly conduct, petit larceny, and more. These types of convictions would be sealed after seven years, so long as the person has not been convicted of any additional criminal activity in that time.
The law would also provide clearer roads toward record sealing for more serious crimes, by way of a petition process. The petition process would be available for offenders with other misdemeanor convictions on their record, as well as to individuals convicted of Class 5 or Class 6 felonies.
In Arizona, a committee within the state’s House of Representatives recently advanced its own Clean Slate bill to the next stage of the legislative process. The legislation in question, House Bill 2320, would allow criminal offenders to petition the court to seal their records as early as two years after sentencing. How soon an offender would be eligible to have their crimes sealed would depend on the severity of those crimes.
The legislation would also make it a requirement for the court to notify the prosecutors and victims from an offender’s case if and when that person petitioned the court to have their records sealed.
The Columbus City Council has received a $500,000 competitive grant, intended to help the city assist residents with sealing their criminal records. The grant comes from the Alliance for the American Dream, a grant program operated by the philanthropic initiative, Schmidt Futures, which seeks to “provide access to capital and access to market for new ideas to support distressed communities locally.” In Columbus’s case, the Alliance for the American Dream grant will fund the launch of “Opportunity Port,” an online portal system that will guide users through the process of sealing their criminal records.
Reporting on the grant, the Columbus Dispatch noted that the city’s current process for sealing records typically demands that applicants set up in-person court appointments, detailed paperwork, and other burdensome steps. Opportunity Port would digitize and automate key parts of that process, thus simplifying it for users.
At backgroundchecks.com, we offer our own version of Opportunity Port in the form of MyClearStart. MyClearStart offers an easy-to-use and easy-to-understand guide through the legal process of getting criminal records sealed or expunged. Learn more at www.myclearstart.com.
About Michael Klazema The author
Michael Klazema is Chief Marketing Technologist at EY-VODW.com and has over two decades of experience in digital consulting, online product management, and technology innovation. He is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments.