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Utah Legislature Considering Automatic Expungement Bill

By Michael Klazema on 3/12/2019

Utah’s process for expunging old criminal convictions could soon change.

Per a report from Salt Lake City newspaper the Deseret News, the bill would “automatically expunge certain misdemeanor crimes” after a pre-set amount of time passed. Republican State Representative Eric Hutchings is sponsoring the bill, which is also backed by the Salt Lake County Criminal Justice Advisory Council.

Hutchings’ goal is to solve a common problem: people with criminal backgrounds are largely considered unemployable. He says that too many people in Utah “are serving what amounts to a life sentence of being unemployed for minor offenses.” Utah has a state law that bans the box for public employers, but most job applications in the state still feature questions that inquire about applicants’ criminal histories. No cities or counties in Utah have adopted ban the box ordinances to curb the issue.

The presence of the criminal history question on most job applications, along with the fact that most Utah employers conduct background checks on prospective hires, means that job seekers with criminal backgrounds struggle to get away from past mistakes. Expungement is an option, and many ex-offenders in Utah are eligible to have their records expunged. However, the current system for expungement in the state is often described as complex, confusing, and expensive—making matters very difficult for anyone without the means to hire a lawyer or pay court fees.

Per reports, Hutchings’ proposed legislation, House Bill 431, is a “clean slate” law. The bill would utilize “technology already in place” to automate a process for identifying people who are eligible for expungement. If the system identifies a person as eligible—based on the severity of his or her crime, the length of time since the conviction, and the presence of repeat offenses—it will put that person on an “automated track” toward expungement. The person would not need to pay fees, hire a lawyer, or go to court to petition for expungement.

Currently, Utah’s expungement process not only requires a person to remain “crime-free” for a certain amount of time but also requires him or her to actively pursue expungement.

The person must apply for expungement to determine eligibility, and then must physically go to court in the jurisdictions where their criminal records are filed to petition judges for expungements. The process also involves hefty fees for each court petition—and there is a time limit. Someone found to be eligible for expungement would receive an eligibility certification valid for just 90 days. If the process of petitioning the courts takes longer than that, the person’s eligibility expires, and he or she must go back to square one.

House Bill 431 has bipartisan support in the Utah legislature and has been endorsed by multiple organizations and government offices, including the Utah Department of Public Safety.

Sources: https://www.deseretnews.com/article/900058525/utah-lawmaker-proposes-clean-slate-law-to-automatically-wipe-away-nonviolent-criminal-records.html

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