California promotes broader US law to seal criminal records

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California would have what advocates call the most comprehensive law in the country to seal criminal records if Gov. Gavin Newsom signs legislation sent to him by state lawmakers Thursday.

The invoice would automatically seal conviction and arrest records for most ex-offenders who are not convicted of another felony for four years after completing their sentences and any probation or parole. Arrest records with no convictions would also be sealed.

It would go into effect in July and excludes those convicted of felonies and violent crimes, and felonies that require sex offender registration.

Advocates say about 8 million Californians have criminal or arrest histories, or about one in five state residents. A criminal record can trigger nearly 5,000 legal restrictions in California, many of which can limit job opportunities as well as the ability to obtain housing and educational opportunities, supporters said.

They estimate that 70 million people across the country face nearly 50,000 legal restrictions based on criminal or arrest records.

Nationwide, 37 states and more than 150 cities have adopted laws that prevent employers from asking candidates about their criminal records before a job offer, according to the National Employment Law Project. This law would go further by automatically sealing sentences for people who meet certain conditions.

Jay Jordan was out with some friends 20 years ago in Stockton when they tried to rob someone on the street. Jordan said no one was hurt and no items were stolen, but Jordan received an eight-year prison sentence.

Once he was released, he said his criminal record made it difficult for him to re-enter society. He said he tried to become a barber, a used car salesman and an insurance broker, but was barred from each industry because of his criminal record. He couldn’t even volunteer to help at-risk youth.

He later found work as an organizer and is now executive director of the Alliance for Safety and Justice, a criminal justice reform group. But he said others have not been as lucky as him.

“They are excluded from the economy. And they’re not committing crimes, they’re just living in poverty and staying there because they feel like they belong there,” Jordan said. “This (bill) gives them a sense of belonging to become full American citizens again.”

While the bill would not apply to serious or violent crimes, California has a narrow legal definition of violent crime, including about two dozen of the most serious crimes such as murder, voluntary manslaughter, attempted murder, kidnapping, assault, arson, robbery and extortion.

The bill would apply to crimes such as domestic violence, said Republican Sen. Shannon Grove, who joined all Republicans in the Senate and one Democrat, Sen. Melissa Hurtado of Sanger, in voting against the bill on Thursday.

“These things are very violent things even though they are not listed as serious and violent in the criminal code,” Grove said.

Democratic state Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, the bill’s author, said in a statement that the persistent criminal records available through background checks create “a permanent underclass.” That may include, but is not limited to, “mothers who want to pursue new careers through education, fathers who want to be coaches, homeowners who want to join their HOA board, couples who want to adopt, or grandchildren who want to care for their grandparents.” seniors. .”

Seven reform organizations sponsored the bill, including Californians for Safety and Justice, which has spurred numerous criminal justice measures like Proposition 47, the voter-approved ballot measure that reduced penalties for certain drug-related crimes. and the property in 2014.

Groups that opposed the bill include the 75,000-member California Peace Officers Research Association, which argued that California already offers more limited ways for lower-level ex-offenders to have their records expunged.

“By expanding sentencing relief to all serious crimes, we are putting our communities at risk,” the association said. “By allowing violent criminals to return to the streets, with their records dismissed, they will have less of a deterrent to commit another crime.”

In addition to general criminal records, the bill would help prospective teachers, who under current law must be denied teaching credentials if they have been convicted of a controlled substance offense. The bill would bar the teacher credentialing commission from considering drug possession convictions that are more than five years old and have been expunged. But the commission and school officials would still have access to other convictions dating back to 2020.

The bill failed in the Assembly a year ago, and an amended version passed the House in June. Among other things, supporters originally wanted the records to be sealed after two years instead of four. The Senate approved the amendments Thursday by a vote of 28-10 and sent them to Newsom.


Associated Press reporter Adam Beam contributed to this report.


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