Acceptance Grows for "Clean Slate" Approach to Criminal Records

By Michael Klazema on 3/10/2020

Even if it only contains misdemeanors, a criminal record can be a critical barrier to housing, employment, and many other essential services for individuals trying to re-enter society. For felons, the obstacles are even more substantial. With concerns nationwide about recidivism and the number of incarcerated individuals, "clean slate" movements are finding both popular and legislative support. 

Advocates claim that by sealing or expunging criminal records, individuals who've demonstrated their ability to reform can get a true "second chance." Once the records are sealed, employers and landlords will be unable to see those charges or convictions in a criminal history report, such as those supplied by To qualify, individuals must typically meet an array of requirements, such as remaining out of the justice system for a certain period. 

Several states already have expungement frameworks in place, and the list is set to grow in 2020. 

In Connecticut, Governor Ned Lamont proposed a "Clean Slate" bill for the legislature's consideration which would wipe out certain misdemeanors. Once in legislative hands, the bill transformed: the current bill would expand the opportunity for expungement to even more people by including low-level felonies. The bill requires individuals to spend seven years without additional convictions to be eligible for automatic expungement. 

In nearby Vermont, legislators have also considered a variety of clean slate bills, including some which would make almost all offenses eligible for expungement. As is typical of these laws, the bills exclude certain violent or sexual offenses. Vermont is expected to pass one of these proposed laws, which would go into effect by mid-2020.

Not all the efforts focused on expungement are legislative. In some states, judicial actions have led to outcomes that could serve as precedent for future cases. In both Kentucky and Wisconsin, judges ruled in favor of plaintiffs who sued over arrest and arraignment records that did not lead to trial or a conviction. 

Though most background checks do not report arrest data, employers in states without "ban the box" rules can often inquire about past arrests. Wisconsin's courts clarified that the state must expunge records for all subjects whose arrests did not lead to charges.

Other efforts take a different form, focusing on one class of offense: erasing old marijuana convictions is an idea with resounding popularity in "legal states." Illinois recently became the latest state to begin expunging thousands of cannabis-related arrest and conviction records following legalization. 

The landscape of rules and laws governing criminal record expungement is changing rapidly. For individuals with a criminal record, this patchwork makes it a challenge to understand which rights and opportunities are available to secure a second chance. 

To learn whether you might eligible for sealing or expunging records in your municipality, explore your options with partner site MyClearStart. Learn about eligibility requirements in your area and connect with a qualified lawyer to explore your next steps for a fresh start and a clean slate.

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